DA, wife survive boat crash

Catawba County’s district attorney and his wife say they are thankful to be alive after a boat wreck threw them overboard Sunday evening.

Twenty-fifth Prosecutorial District Attorney Jay Gaither said he was blinded by bright lights before a boat he was driving crashed into another vessel on Lake Hickory on Sunday.

Gaither said he and his wife were celebrating their 17th anniversary on the lake Sunday evening and were driving down river at about 5 mph.

After deciding to return home, Gaither said he made a wide, sweeping U-turn and accelerated his 1981 MasterCraft up to about 20 mph. Near the end of the turn, Gaither said he “lost vision due to six very bright lights” on the shore and collided with another boat heading down river.

The impact threw Gaither and his wife, Beth, into the water.

“There were bright lights, and then there was a boat between me and those bright lights,” Gaither said, adding the bright lights came from five or six houses on the Alexander County side of the lake. “By the time I was into that turn, the collision took place immediately at the same time I saw the lights. I didn’t have time to decelerate at all.”

Investigators with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission said they still are piecing together exactly what happened to cause the collision. Their investigation shows that Gaither’s boat collided with a SeaRay driven by Kevin Propst of Hickory as it made the turn.

Victoria Bryant of Hudson and a juvenile male also were occupants of the boat driven by Propst.

Lt. Michael Hatley of the Wildlife Commission said Propst and his passengers helped the Gaithers out of the water and dropped them off at a dock.

They then traveled to the Oxford boat access area where emergency personnel was contacted. Hatley said the adults were treated at the scene, but the juvenile was taken to a local hospital for treatment of injuries.

Because the MasterCraft is an older model boat, it does not have a “kill switch” and continued along the water until it struck a boat dock, Gaither said.

After impact with the SeaRay operated by Propst, Gaither’s boat ran up on a nearby boat dock, crossed one boat and landed on a jet ski at the boat slip, Hatley said. The second collision caused damage to the dock and Gaither’s boat, he said. A homeowner on Sulphur Springs Road called 9-1-1 after Gaither’s boat hit the dock. She told 9-1-1 dispatchers that the run-away boat completely crushed her boat and jet ski parked in her dock.

One aspect that has not been determined is if the boats’ navigational lights were on when they collided, more than an hour after the sun went down. Hatley said by state law, boats are required to have navigational lights on after sunset.

Wildlife Commission officers are continuing their investigation of the wreck but said alcohol was not involved in the crash. Gaither said that neither he nor his wife had been or were consuming alcohol.

Hatley indicated that no charges have been filed in the boating collision, noting that it could take some time to piece together exactly what happened.

“When you have something like this that happens without other witnesses, it takes a while to put it all together,” he said. “We’ll have to look at the damage to the boats, distances traveled and other factors. We need to look at the totality of the situation to determine what led to the crash.”

Gaither said he and his wife were thankful the incident wasn't worse.

“We thank God we weren’t injured or killed,” Gaither said. “We went home, kissed all four of our children, and said we are thankful to God and that we will wake up in morning. We said it will be a new day.”

Gaither said he has a boater’s safety certificate, said he has been boating on Lake Hickory for 42 years.

“I have a very keen sense of respect for the water and respect for boating,” Gaither said, adding that the incident took place in a blink of an eye and was a potentially life-threatening situation.

Lenoir News Topic Editor Nathan Key contributed to this story.