Witness to fatal boating accident in Ontario says it was a matter of ‘when, not if’

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For one lake resident, the circumstances surrounding a fatal boating accident over a May long weekend north of Kingston, Ont., were not an unfortunate event, but an inevitability.

Tony Hammond’s family has been coming to the area for over forty years, with Hammond living on the water for the last twenty years.

Over the past 15 years, however, he and other neighbors say speeding has made the waterway less safe — a common factor that the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) says it is investigating.

“The behavior of so many boats in the canal, as the population in the canal has grown over the last 15, 20 years, has turned this scenario into a ‘when’, not ‘if,’” Hammond said.

That ‘crunch’ sound means ‘go time’

On May 18, just after 9:30 p.m., three young adults were killed and five other people were injured after a speedboat ended up on top of a fishing boat in Bobs Lake, north of Kingston.

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The crash occurred on a narrow canal connecting Bobs Lake and Buck Bay, which Hammond overlooks as he sits on the deck of his home.

Click to play video: 'Family and friends remember victims of fatal boat collision near Kingston, Ont.'

Family and friends remember the victims of a fatal boat collision near Kingston, Ont.

That’s where he was when he said he saw a group of young people listening to music on board a boat not far from the dock when he heard another boat approaching.

Everything happened so quickly, Hammond said, that he didn’t have time to react.

“I was just hoping I wouldn’t hear the crack, but then I heard the crack,” he said.

“Before any of the actual first responders arrived, everyone did what they could. There’s no way to describe it other than to say that everyone who ever hears it knows that sound is time.

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The OPP says it is investigating a fatal boat collision that left three people dead and five injured on May 18, 2024. The three victims of the incident were high school graduates from Kingston, Ont.

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Bob Main, who also has a lake house, says he was watching TV with his family, the screen door open to let in a breeze, when they heard the loud crash.

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Main said speeding can be a problem on the lake.

“It’s very narrow between here and there on the other side, and there’s even a sign here that says ’10 kilometers.’ On the other side is a sign that says ‘No Wake Zone’… you need to slow down,” he said.

Injured are recovering, OPP say

Three people — Riley Orr, Juliette Cote and Kaila Bearman, all between the ages of 21 and 23 — were pronounced dead at the scene, police said.

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Those injured in the collision are recovering, said Const. Rob Martell, a media relations officer with the Frontenac OPP, in a May 29 statement to Global News. This also applies to the driver of the speedboat, he said. That person did not return multiple requests for comment at time of publication.

Martell added that the OPP’s investigation is ongoing, and said that while charges may be filed at a later date, none have been filed yet.

“I cannot comment on the specific factors looked at in this study. General factors considered include: speed, alcohol/drug use, safety equipment used or not used, weather, driver requirements for boats, time of day, darkness, underwater hazards, navigation aids or markings, and driver competence “, he said.

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“Our investigation will continue to determine what impact speed may have played a role in this collision. A traffic accident reconstruction expert and investigator will, together with witness statements, determine whether speed plays a role. We do not release these decisions.”

Click to play video: 'Deadly boat collision near Kingston, Ontario, leaves three dead, five injured over long weekend'

Fatal boat collision near Kingston, Ontario, left three dead and five injured over a long weekend

In Ontario, boats are not allowed to travel faster than 10 kilometers per hour within 30 meters of the coast. A speed limit could be posted in canals or narrower waterways, but there is no prescribed speed limit on open water, Martell said.

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As warm weather arrives, Martell advises anyone hitting the waterways to do so safely.

“Safe boating starts with safety checks by the operator to ensure proper safety equipment is in place under the Canada Shipping Act. A good operator’s license and a down-to-earth operator of the ship. No alcohol or drugs should be consumed before or while operating a vessel,” he said.

“Life jackets or personal flotation devices must be worn at all times. A detailed departure and return time must be communicated to the family. It is also useful to have a cell phone with you in case of emergencies. The use of navigational aids and safe boating practices will significantly reduce the chance of a collision or emergency at sea.”

‘People are crying out for help’

Emergency response footage posted online revealed a chaotic scene on the night of the crash as paramedics, police and firefighters rushed to the area.

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“OPP and ambulance report that two boats have crashed. They can hear people screaming for help,” a dispatcher with South Frontenac Fire and Rescue said around 9:45 p.m.

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Around 10:10 p.m., first responders found most of the crash victims pinned to the boats next to a concrete dock near some cottages.

It is unclear at this time whether the boat that was struck had its lights on.

Two people had no vital signs, while another was both in and out of consciousness, a fire official told the dispatcher.

At the end of the day, Hammond said he thinks this was all avoidable.

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“It had to be an incident to get people’s attention because we could contact the authorities, we could contact regulators, we could contact MPs, you could contact newspapers, you could be blue in the face talk, and nothing can be done about it. the fact that they are not navigating the canal correctly,” he said.

“There’s not much we can do about that until people start getting killed, and then, oh, now we have to do something.”

— with files from Global News’ Sean O’Shea, Aaron D’Andrea, Talha Hashmani and The Canadian Press

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