Little hope held out for boater

SANDUSKY A Berlin Heights man holds out little hope his son will be found alive after being thrown o
Cory Frolik
May 24, 2010



A Berlin Heights man holds out little hope his son will be found alive after being thrown overboard in a boat crash early Sunday in Sandusky Bay.

"... we all know what the chances are now," Stephen Miller said solemnly, about 17 hours after the accident.

Ben Miller, 21, of Berlin Heights was operating a 22-foot Bayliner when it collided with a 40-foot cigarette boat near the entrance of Venetian Marina, authorities said. The crash occurred before 12:30 a.m. Sunday.

U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Chris Channels said the Bayliner had four people aboard, and the cigarette boat had two people aboard.

According to a Sandusky police report, the larger boat left the scene of the accident before emergency crews arrived. The pair who fled took themselves to the hospital.

Authorities did not release the names of the other people involved in the accident.

However, local auto dealer Phil Steinle confirmed he was involved.

Asked at his home if he was involved, Steinle said simply, "I was."

However, Steinle said he had been instructed by Ohio Department of Natural Resources to "cease and desist" from saying anything more about the crash.

Sandusky Police acting chief Charles Sams said Sunday night the cigarette boat was registered in the name Steinle, but said all other information had been turned over to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Watercraft, which is leading the investigation. Attempts to contact ODNR Sunday night were unsuccessful.

The passengers aboard the Bayliner were Ben's girlfriend, one of his male friends and his girlfriend, Miller said. They are all in their early 20s.

One of the women was seriously injured in the crash and was taken to Firelands Regional Medical Center for treatment. She was then taken by LifeFlight to St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center in Toledo.

The conditions of the other boaters could not be confirmed.

By mid-afternoon Sunday, authorities said there was only a slim chance Ben would be found alive.

"Being that it was not too far from the shoreline, and the other people were injured and there was a lot of damage to the boats, we're expecting more of a recovery than to find somebody," Sandusky police Sgt. Rich Braun said.

The Coast Guard devoted a boat and a helicopter to the search. The Sandusky Fire Department, Sandusky Police Department and Ohio Division of Watercraft also deployed boats, searching Sandusky Bay for hours. One boat used sonar to scan the bay bottom. A cadaver-locating dog was also used.

The Coast Guard suspended its search at 11:40 a.m. Sunday after finding no trace of the missing man.

Through the early afternoon fire and police boats continued patrolling the bay several hundred yards offshore. Those efforts were called off when it grew windy later in the day.

"They've been searching since last night. If somebody was alive in the water, chances are they would have found them by now or they would have made their way to shore," Braun said.

The Bayliner was so badly mangled in the crash it nearly sank. Authorities managed to tow it to Battery Park Marine Services, where it was pulled out of the water.

Miller said he saw the cigarette boat at Venetian Marina, and there was a 4-foot-long hole in its side.

Ben's family wants answers. First and foremost, they want to know why the other boat left the scene of the accident.

The people aboard the second boat did eventually contact emergency dispatch and notified authorities the boat was tied up at Venetian Marina, a police report said.

Venetian Marina representatives declined comment Sunday.

A 2004 graduate of Edison High School, Ben was a union laborer with Newcomer Concrete Services in Norwalk.

"He was just a big-hearted, good kid. You couldn't ask for a better kid. He stayed out of trouble, and he helped all his friends when they needed help. He helped us when we needed help," his father said.

All along the rocky shoreline near Cedar Point, people who knew Ben spent most of Sunday looking out into the bay for any sign of their missing friend.

"If anybody has any information about this, I wish they would please come forward," his father said, his voice trembling.

"Ben was a great kid and will be dearly missed by all of his grandparents, by his aunts and uncles, and all his friends. All of his friends are still sitting out on those rocks, waiting ..." he said, trailing off.

Editor's note: The boat was identified as a SeaRay by Miller's family, but as a Bayliner by official reports.