Questions remain in deaths of 3 boaters

KELLEYS ISLAND Finding closure over the past few months has been hard for two Wooster families who l
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010



Finding closure over the past few months has been hard for two Wooster families who lost their loved ones in a Lake Erie boating accident.

Howard Crowner of Wooster said there are too many questions left unanswered as to why his two brothers died.

In September 2007, the bodies of Christopher Crowner, 46, Daniel Crowner, 44, and Cass Momchilov, 46, all of Wooster, were found in Lake Erie. The three men had left Vermilion during Labor Day weekend for an overnight fishing trip near Kelleys Island and never returned.

Two life preservers and foam debris were found by operators of a 505-foot barge, Cleveland Rocks, and its tugboat at about the same time the fishermen and their boat turned up missing. That raised questions as to whether the barge had made contact with the men's 21-foot pleasure boat.

"There is strong suspicion on everybody's part that the barge hit the boat," Crowner said. "This turned into quite an investigation, I guess."

Both the U.S. Coast Guard and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Watercraft Division took a role in the investigation.

"Time kind of drags a little bit not knowing," Crowner said.

ODNR filed an accident report in October 2007, spokesman John Wisse said.

"Our part of the case is done," he said.

Wisse said the report detailed weather conditions at the time of the accident and estimated it happened at 2 a.m. Sept. 4.

"This accident wasn't actually witnessed," he said. "It was a little hard to pinpoint things."

An anonymous caller alerted officials that boat debris was associated with the tug and barge.

"It is suspected that a collision occurred between this boat and the tug," Wisse said, adding the investigation was "inconclusive."

Sonar searches for the fishing boat were unsuccessful, Wisse said.

"The boat was never located or recovered," he said.

The U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit in Toledo finished its investigation in April and forwarded its conclusions to the U.S. Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C., said Chief Petty Officer Robert Lanier from the U.S. Coast Guard 9th District in Cleveland.

"The Coast Guard is looking to do a thorough investigation," he said. "We owe that to the families and the boating communities."

Lanier said he is unsure when the report will be released. Headquarters will either approve the report and sign off on it or ask the Marine Unit to reconsider its conclusions if more investigation is needed, Lanier said.

"It would be premature to report," Lanier said.

Josette Momchilov echoes the feelings the Crowner family does.

"So far there has been nothing," said the mother who lost her youngest son. "It's very frustrating. I do a a lot of thinking and praying."