Watercraft accident investigation continues amid media attention | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Watercraft accident investigation continues amid media attention

William Ferchland

A media storm hit South Lake Tahoe Police Department on Tuesday as investigators looked into a personal watercraft accident that killed two young cousins.

“I have talked to every news crew in the entire region it feels like,” said Lt. Terry Daniels. “The investigation got delayed a couple hours because of that.”

Daniels fielded requests from television stations in Reno and the Bay Area and newspapers from Barstow and Sacramento.

“It’s the most (media attention) we’ve had in some time and I’m sure that’s attributed to the victims being children,” Daniels said.

Interest was spawned from an accident Monday off Ski Run Marina Village that killed 15-year-old Ashley Wagner and 6-year-old Jordan Cockrell. The two cousins were sharing a rented Waverunner. They lost control of the personal watercraft and hit another cousin as he sat on an idling Waverunner.

A final report by Boating Safety Officer Steve O’Brien is expected to be completed today.

“He’s writing like crazy,” Daniels said. “You can imagine the paperwork involved with this.”

Coroner Pete Van Arnum was waiting Tuesday afternoon for a doctor so an autopsy can be conducted. Van Arnum said Jordan, from Hayward, and Ashley, from Barstow, either died from internal injuries or drowning, even though the two were wearing life jackets.

Attention may turn toward the ages of the victims. California law states a person must be 16 to operate a personal watercraft. In Nevada, it’s 14 and drivers must have taken a boat licensing course, according to Kirk Kelly, the executive director of the American Personal Watercraft Rental Association in Reno.

To rent them in either state, Kelly said, a person has to be 18 years old.

The association represents 3,000 personal watercraft rental companies nationwide and helps set safety policies.

“In our opinions a personal watercraft operated by a noneducated driver would equal major safety problems,” he said.

Assistant District Attorney Hans Uthe said his office was waiting for the reports.

“We’re not in a position to comment because we haven’t received anything,” Uthe said. “We’ll wait and see what gets presented.”

Phone calls to the manager at Ski Run Boat Company were not returned.

At Zephyr Cove Marina on the Nevada side, the minimum age to operate a Waverunner is 15 years old, one above the minimum. Assistant Manager Josh Bainton said workers are vigilant to assure riders are old enough.

“We just want (riders) to be safe, including ourselves,” he said.

Nita Boles, national spokeswoman and co-founder of the Coalition of Parents and Families for Personal Watercraft Safety, was saddened by the news of the two deaths.

Boles’ 16-year-old daughter was killed in a 1998 Fourth of July personal watercraft accident on a lake in Texas. Her group’s goal is to have mandatory education in boating safety.

“Imagine the pilot of your plane not having some form of education and he’s flying you somewhere,” she said. “Personal watercraft is the entry level craft. They’re quite dangerous in the hands of someone who is an uneducated boater.”

– E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com.

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