Published in the Asbury Park Press 9/24/02
By JOE ADELIZZI
and KIRK MOORE
TOMS RIVER BUREAU
When 19-year-old Richard Gallagher decided he was going to take a personal watercraft for a ride in the Toms River on Sunday, his grandmother, Kay Gallagher of Berkeley, was happy to see he was getting some time to relax.
"He was working so hard in school, taking 21 credits at Rutgers University," she said. "We've always been a "beach' family, and I was glad he was getting to use the Wave Rider."
But by late afternoon, as she sat by her pool reading a newspaper story about Barry Flowers, the man who pleaded guilty to charges that his boat ran over another craft two years ago, two policemen came and asked if her Wave Rider was being used.
"When I told them it was, they told me there had been an accident. That's how I found out that he was gone," she said.
Her grandson had been going east on the river near Pine Beach while a 19-foot Laser speedboat, piloted by Reineir Vanderherp, 44, of Lacey, was heading west.
"The speedboat turned to its left to turn around and head east," said Lt. Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the State Police. "As he came around, his boat collided with the watercraft."
According to the police report on the accident, Vanderherp pulled Gallagher from the water, dialed 911 and attempted to administer first aid.
The boater rushed to the Pine Beach boat ramp, where police and the Beachwood First Aid Squad were waiting. But Gallagher was pronounced dead at the scene at 3:12 p.m., said Della Fave.
Vanderherp wouldn't comment on what happened.
'A super kid'
Because Richard Gallagher's parents had personal problems, his grandmother brought him up from age 2, she said.
"He came home this weekend to help me with some things I needed done around the house," she said.
While attending Central Regional High School, he was a member of the swimming team and involved in other activities.
"He was a super kid, very much into the yearbook, and a writer. He was a big part of our journalism classes," said Bruce Orsino, principal of the high school, from which Gallagher graduated in 2001. "He was a senior of the month in February. He was nominated by a staff member. There are only two named each month of the school year, so that tells you a lot about the type of kid he was.
"He was very active, always working on something," Orsino said. "You wouldn't call him an extrovert. But he had a warm personality. Just a good kid."
Gail Bouch of Berkeley remembered him as a boy who was making strides to make it in the world.
"I knew him through high school," Bouch said. "He was a real good friend with my daughter, Kimberly, because they were both on the swim team. She called me from school in Rochester (N.Y.) this morning to tell me about the accident. They were just buddies. In fact, they had gone to ground zero together this summer. He was pretty much on his own, but he was making it."
Cindy Stout, his high school swimming coach, remembered Gallagher as "a kid who worked hard in all aspects of life. He was a four-year letter winner for us. When he came out, he was one of three freshmen. But by the time he graduated, we were conference champions. After school, he was working at Six Flags. He started part time. But by last summer he was wearing a tie to work, hiring other people.
"He had a lot of personality . . .," she said. "He made us all laugh."
Visiting hours for Gallagher are from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. tomorrow at Mastapeter Funeral Home, 270 Route 9, Berkeley. A funeral Mass will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Barnabas Church, Berkeley. Burial at St. Joseph Cemetery, Toms River, will follow.
18th fatality this year
The cause of the crash remains under investigation by State Police marine officers from the Point Pleasant barracks. The boat and remnants of the personal watercraft are docked there.
Until this year, boating accidents have been declining in recent years in proportion to to the number of craft in the water, according to State Police, who credit 1996 boating-law reforms that required mandatory safety education for personal watercraft riders.
However, Sunday's crash brought the 2002 toll to 18, tying the last peak year of 1996.
This year saw several very public fatal accidents -- a man ejected from his speedboat off Keyport in May, a high-speed catamaran that capsized in rough water off Sea Isle City and killed three broth-ers, and the death in July of a Rumson teenager whose personal watercraft hit a moored sailboat in the Navesink River.
"The only pattern that I can see is there's no pattern," State Police Sgt. Roy Bubigkit said Friday to members of a new Assembly task force on boating safety, which held its first public hearing in Ocean City.
High speed and failure to wear life jackets were contributing fac-tors in several capsizing deaths, authorities have said.
Overall accident statistics for 2002 are still being compiled, but Bubigkit said the numbers in re-cent years have been below the mid-1990s peak of 200-plus re-ported accidents a year.
Meanwhile, boat registrations soared in New Jersey, driven in large part by the popularity of personal watercraft.
The boating community shrank during the early 1990s recession to a low of 157,000 vessels in 1993. As the economy grew, more boats were registered, reaching 198,000 boats by 1997 and 240,000 boats in 2000.
Perhaps reflecting the economy, boat registrations were down to about 220,000 this summer.
At the same time, fewer personal watercraft have been involved in fatal accidents, probably due to the 1996 law, Bubigkit said.
Prompted by concerns about a disproportionate number of acci-dents involving personal water-craft, the state in 1996 began requiring operators to be at least 16 years old and to complete a boating safety course before ob-taining a license. Also, anyone born after Jan. 1, 1979, now needs to complete a safety course before operating any kind of rec-reational vessel.
Sunday's accident was the state's third fatal crash this year involv-ing a personal watercraft. In the mid-1990s, personal watercraft were involved in about one-third of all deaths on the water.