One boat, operated by Jesse Smith of Port Charlotte, was traveling southeast around a blind corner at 30 mph. The second, operated by local fishing guide Capt. Steve Ahlers, was heading northeast in a cut-in between two small islands at the same speed.
When the first boat turned into the cut, both Smith and Ahlers realized that they were going to collide. Smith slowed and turned his boat, while Ahlers accelerated in the opposite direction to avoid him.
A head-on collision was avoided, but Smith and Ahlers’ boats collided. One passenger from Ahlers’ boat was thrown in the water, and Ahlers sustained a head injury.
Disoriented, Ahlers was unable to give his location over the radio.
When the call came in from the FWC to the marine unit of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, Corkhill contacted the Boca Grande Fire Department directly and headed to Whidden’s Marina, where Capt. Charlie Coleman had his boat.
According to the records of the Boca Grande Fire Department, the call was received at 1:30 p.m. and they were on scene at 1:40 p.m. In the meantime, Coleman took his boat out to try to find where the accident was. It was a good thing, because the shallow waters where the victims were located weren’t going to be deep enough for emergency personnel vehicles.
“I made a lucky guess,” said Coleman. “I know some of the spots he fishes in. I found him at Mad Stop. There was one person floating in the water. I went back to pick up the guys from the fire department, and they realized that their boat could fit back where the accident was. So they came back. I ended up giving Steve and Jeff a ride back to the Boca Grande Marina.”
The man floating in the water was a passenger on Ahlers’ boat.
Ahlers was transported by Charlotte County ambulance to Fawcett Hospital with head injuries.
His passenger, who took the brunt of the impact, was transported by air to Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers. He remains in critical condition with a shattered pelvis and a head injury.
The FWC investigation into the incident is ongoing.
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