Two injured on Southeast Missouri lakes over the weekend

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Accidents on area lakes Saturday afternoon sent two women to the hospital, including one with burns after her boat exploded on Clearwater Lake.

Jennifer Wallis, 32, of Valley Park, Mo., reportedly was released from a burn unit Sunday, while Annie Clark, 19, of Puxico, Mo., was treated for moderate injuries and released from Poplar Bluff Regional Medical Center Saturday.

Wallis, who suffered second-degree burns on 18 to 20 percent of her body, was injured in an accident just after 3 p.m. Saturday near the Bluff View Marina at Piedmont, said Missouri State Water Patrolman Steve Roberts.

"They hadn't run their boat for six to eight weeks," Roberts said. "That morning, when they got to the slip at Bluff View, the bilge, engine, was full of water."

The boat's operator, Daniel Tullman, 42, of Ballwin, Mo., had gotten the water out of the bilge and put in a fuel additive to take the water out of the tank, which he suspected had occurred since the boat had sat for so long, Roberts explained.

When Tullman took off from the marina, "luckily, thank the Lord, he only got about 200 yards from the marina when the motor started sputtering, popping and backfiring," Roberts said. "This was not a small boat; it was a 21-foot Bayliner with an inboard motor."

After the motor started sputtering, Roberts said, Tullman knew something was "not right. He put it in neutral and was revving the engine to try to get it to smooth out and to try to get it to run."

As Tullman worked with the boat, Roberts said, Wallis was sitting back near the engine cover, while two children, ages 10 and 13, were seated on the front bow of the boat.

"Evidentially, [the motor] continues the same abnormal behavior [of] sputtering and backfiring," Roberts said. "He started back to the marina and as he started to accelerate, it exploded, [causing] a flash fire to occur. ¿ [Wallis] was sitting near enough, the flash fire

burned both of her legs, from just above the knee down."

All four, according to Roberts, exited the boat, wearing life jackets and were picked up by nearby boaters on a pontoon.

"By that time I was there [and] the boat was fully involved, stem to bow," Roberts said. "In a matter of three minutes, it was totally on fire."

Roberts said he followed the pontoon boat to shore, where they were met by emergency medical services personnel.

Due to the pain Wallis was suffering, Roberts said, he was afraid she would go into shock. In order to keep Wallis' burns cool and moist, he said, he wanted to put a wet towel on them, but Wallis objected.

Instead, Roberts said, he used bottled water some of the other boaters provided to cool the burns and keep Wallis hydrated. "I had a lot of good help from people," he said. "I appreciate everyone's help. ... It's wonderful to have those kinds of folks on the water."

Roberts said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel also assisted in keeping others away from the "fully involved" boat, which was in danger of exploding a second time.

Tullman, he said, had reported the boat was "fully fueled [with] 20 to 30 gallons" of gasoline in its tank.

Roberts said other boaters were approaching it for photographs or to splash it, including a jet ski, occupied by three, with only one wearing a life jacket. "It was a constant battle," he said.

Had the boat exploded, its metal and fiberglass would have become flying shrapnel, "like a roadside bomb in Iraq," Roberts said.

After EMS took Wallis to a landing zone to be flown to a burn unit, Roberts said, Tullman approached him, telling him how he had written Tullman a warning last year about keeping his personal flotation devices accessible.

At the time, "he said he thought I was being difficult [but] 'thank God I had the life jackets out,'" Roberts said.

Tullman told Roberts he couldn't have imagined putting Wallis in the water with a life jacket, and had the children put their life jackets on immediately.

"We tell people to have their life jackets accessible," Roberts said. "That's important in an emergency situation. If he had stored them in the bilge ... "

Clark was injured at about 4 p.m. Saturday at Asher Creek Cove, which is located behind the "two big islands, up from Rockwood" Point.

Clark's 31-year-old husband, Benjamin Clark, was pulling two tubes, each with a lone rider, behind his 18-foot Webbcraft, according to Water Patrolman David Nelson.

"He was just turning the boat around (and) when he did, Ms. Clark fell off her tube and the other tube run over the top of her," Nelson explained. "They said it looked like a normal spill.

"They were just turning around and were going to pick her up when they realized she was face down and unconscious."

When Clark was pulled from the water, "she immediately woke up," Nelson said.

Clark, Nelson said, was taken to People's Creek boat ramp, where she was met by EMS and taken to the Poplar Bluff hospital.

"She had a large knot, behind her right ear, with a laceration, which did require stitches," Nelson said. "They were treating her for ingesting water into her lungs."

Nelson said Clark was wearing a life jacket when the accident occurred.

"The life jacket is the one piece of equipment that can save your life. ... Had she not been wearing a life jacket, with her unconscious, it could have very easily been a fatal accident," he said.

Alcohol, he said, was not a factor in the accident.

"The operator was not doing anything negligent," he said. "This was truly an accident that could not be avoided."

For those boaters, who have had their boats stored for the winter or have not used them for several weeks, "it's a good idea to get the boat serviced, especially these inboard boats" and make sure the ventilation is hooked up and working efficiently, as well as have the motor tuned, Roberts said.

"These inboard boats are notorious for these types of (issues)," Roberts said. " ... It's a very good idea to check your boat out before you put it on the water or things like this could happen."

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