Was Ben Miller operating boat involved in July collision that killed him?

SANDUSKY Criminal charges may be filed in the boat crash that killed 21-year-old Ben Miller.
Cory Frolik
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

Criminal charges may be filed in the boat crash that killed 21-year-old Ben Miller.

Authorities remained silent on what charges may emerge and whom they would be against, but said the criminal proceedings could begin once the Division of Watercraft's final investigative report is issued. That could be as early as Friday.

"Are criminal charges potentially forthcoming in this case? Yes," said Ottawa County prosecutor Mark Mulligan.

Authorities said they may include felony charges.

Miller died after he was thrown overboard when his boat collided with another boat on June 15. His body was found the next day in Sandusky Bay. A preliminary autopsy determined he died from blunt force trauma to his chest and abdomen.

New information about the circumstances surrounding the fatal crash would give rise to the charges.

"It could be a wide range of degrees (of severity). That hasn't been decided. ... And I would think (there would be more than one charge). We found things that made us think, 'This is the way the accident happened, and this is the way it took place,'" said Division of Watercraft investigator John Johnston.

Mulligan said his office is waiting for the finished report before determining whether to file charges.

The investigation found that Miller was aboard a 21-foot Sea Ray boat carrying three friends, all in their twenties -- Kevin Lake of Norwalk, Ashley Franklin of Huron and Emily Jones of Norwalk.

At about 12:20 a.m. June 15, the Sea Ray crashed into a 41-foot Formula boat piloted by local auto dealer Phil Steinle Jr., 53, of Huron.

"The Sea Ray collided with the Formula," Johnston said.

The crash took place about 210 yards away from the entrance to Lyman Harbor. The Sea Ray was traveling about 30 mph when it struck the Formula boat that was traveling about 25 mph.

The impact tore a hole in the mid-ship area of the Formula boat 12 feet long and 4 feet wide. The Sea Ray boat had extensive damage to the bow.

After the collision, the Sea Ray remained out in the bay. Steinle and his passenger, Rachel Forester, headed to Venetian Marina and Steinle took Forester to the hospital where she received stitches to her leg.

Passengers aboard both boats made 911 calls, the first of which came in at 12:30 a.m. and was Forester.

"We had an accident. Oh my God, my leg is bleeding. We are at the Venetian Marina ... our boat is sinking," Forester told dispatchers.

Two emergency calls were made by each boat.

Initial reports that Miller piloted the Sea Ray may not be true. Johnston would neither deny or confirm this -- he said only that was one part of the investigation.

Miller's toxicology test results were not available Tuesday. Calls made to Brian Baxter, Erie County coroner, were not immediately returned.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources does not have a record of Miller ever owning a boating education card. The law is that anyone born after Jan. 1, 1982, must complete an education course before operating a watercraft of greater than 10 horsepower.

None of the boaters on either vessel wore flotation devices.