Woman charged with manslaughter in Current River boat crash

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

DONIPHAN, Mo. -- A Poplar Bluff, Mo., woman was charged Monday with involuntary manslaughter in connection with a deadly weekend boating accident on Current River that left her young passenger and another boater dead.

Radeena Proffer, 27, of Poplar Bluff was charged with the Class B felony of first-degree involuntary manslaughter by Ripley County Prosecuting Attorney Christopher Miller.

The complaint on file with the court alleges on Sunday, Proffer, "while under the influence of alcohol, caused the deaths of Josh M. Burson and Jerry T. Mote by colliding with a vessel in which the victims were occupants when operating a vessel with criminal negligence in that (she) failed to keep a proper lookout ... "

After considering the complaint and probable cause affidavit filed with the court, Associate Circuit Judge Thomas D. Swindle issued a warrant for Proffer's arrest and set her bond at $250,000 bond or surety.

Proffer, who is being held in the Doniphan City Jail, is to appear at 9 a.m. Wednesday before Swindle for arraignment on the charge.

The charge stems from a two-boat collision, which occurred at about 3:30 p.m. Sunday near Worley's Rock, located a couple of miles above Doniphan, that left Burson, 25, and Mote, 11, both of Poplar Bluff, dead.

Proffer was operating a 2005 Blazer utility boat downstream, while at the same time, Chad Mikel, 26, of Poplar Bluff was operating a 2003 Blazer utility boat upstream.

"There is a bend in the river there; they tried to avoid each other, but still collided," explained Water Patrolman David Nelson, District 4's public information officer. Proffer's boat reportedly struck the Mikel boat's port side.

Burson, who was a passenger in Mikel's boat, was ejected. Burson reportedly was recovered by Chad Haywood by "free diving" in about 7 to 8 foot of water at the crash site.

Burson was taken to Ripley County Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 4:37 p.m. by a doctor there.

An autopsy was performed Monday afternoon by Dr. Russell Deidiker at Mineral Area Regional Medical Center in Farmington.

Ripley County Coroner Mike Jackson said Burson died from "massive internal chest and abdominal trauma; it was just massive."

Jerry was thrown from Proffer's boat.

Nelson said Cpl. Jeff Johnson and Patrolman Logan Monahan were within the vicinity of Worley's Rock when the accident was reported and responded to begin searching.

"(Sunday) night, we drug the area there at Worley's Rock," Nelson said. " They concentrated on the deeper hole of water at Worley's Rock. ... The search continued until about 11 o'clock."

Water Patrol officers were joined in their search by members of the Doniphan Police Department, Doniphan Fire Department, Ripley County Sheriff's Department and Ripley County Fire and Rescue.

Nelson said the search resumed with everyone meeting between 6 to 6:30 a.m. Monday.

"At about 8 (a.m.), we had divers arrive, and they began diving around Worley's Rock," he said. "There also were divers from the Doniphan Fire and Rescue who were diving just below our divers.

"That way they could cover a larger area."

Jerry's body was recovered at about 12:20 p.m. Monday about a one and one-half miles downstream from Worley's Rock, Nelson said. That location reportedly was about 200 yards upstream from the Highway 160 bridge.

According to Nelson, Jerry's body was found pushed up against a root wad by a private citizen who was assisting in the search.

Due to Jerry's age, Nelson said, an autopsy will be performed on the boy.

Jackson said Deidiker was to perform the autopsy on Jerry at 1 p.m. today.

Jerry's mother, Michelle Lafferty, 32, of Poplar Bluff, was seriously injured in the collision. Proffer and another passenger, Michael Preslar, 35, also injured.

"They were injured in the boat," Nelson said.

Lafferty, Nelson said, was flown to St. Bernard's Hospital in Jonesboro, Ark., and later was transferred to Elvis Presley Trauma Center in Memphis, Tenn.

Nelson said Lafferty suffered a leg injury, but he didn't know to "what extent. ... I know she was injured real bad. ... I was told from the hospital, she's in stable condition."

Proffer, who was arrested at the scene shortly after the accident on suspicion of boating while intoxicated, was taken to Ripley County Memorial Hospital, where she was treated for moderate injuries, Nelson said.

Proffer, Nelson said, had cuts on both of her knees and on her right hand. She also had to have stitches in the eyebrow area of her right eye, he said.

Preslar suffered minor injuries, but reportedly did not seek treatment.

While speaking with Proffer at the scene, "I smelled a strong odor of intoxicants being emitted from her person (breath)," Johnson said in his probable cause affidavit. "I also noticed Mrs. Proffer had glassy eyes and dilated pupils.

"I asked Mrs. Proffer if she had been drinking alcohol. (She) told me she had drunk some beers earlier in the day."

When Johnson asked how long ago Proffer had drank the beers, he said, he was told it had been four hours earlier, "prior to coming to the river."

"Mrs. Proffer told me she had not had any alcohol to drink while on the river," Johnson said. She also told Johnson she had not had anything to drink since the accident.

Johnson said he asked Proffer to submit to a series of field-sobriety tests, including a preliminary breath test.

"Both tests indicated Mrs. Proffer was in an intoxicated condition," he said.

At that point, Johnson said, he arrested Proffer and told her of her rights.

Johnson said Proffer was taken to the Doniphan Police Department, where she reportedly registered a blood-alcohol content of .123 percent on a breath test. The legal limit is .08.

"(She) told officer Monahan she had drunk three Miller Lite (12-ounce) beers while at her cabin on the Current River," Johnson said.

Johnson said he also interviewed Bradley Lafferty, who was a passenger in Proffer's boat.

"(He) told me Mrs. Proffer had been operating in a careless manner just prior to the collision, and he had observed her drinking what he believed to be a mixed-alcohol drink from a water bottle," Johnson explained. "(He) said the liquid in the water bottle was brown in color."

When asked what he meant by "careless manner," Bradley Lafferty responded by saying "she had 'jumped' a small gravel bar earlier in the afternoon."

"At this time, the accident is under investigation," Nelson said. "Our main concern (initially) was finding Jerry. That was our concern; now that we've recovered him," officers can investigate what happened and how, he said.

Nelson said an accident reconstruction team was to be at the river today.

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