Charges ruled out in boat accident
By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER, Times Staff Writer
Published January 28, 2004
56k | High-Speed
TAMPA - No criminal charges will be filed in the boat accident Sunday that apparently killed a successful Tampa Bay restaurateur and injured two South Tampa women, investigators said Tuesday.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has not completed its investigation of the accident involving Bonefish Grill co-founder Chris Parker. But spokesman Gary Morse said the agency does not plan to file any charges of recklessness.
Parker's boat was traveling at an estimated 100 mph as he and two female passengers skimmed the water alongside fellow boater Clifford J. Davis of Pinellas Park.
"It might have been excessive speed (that caused the wreck)," Morse said. "Then again, he could have hit something in the water, and it wouldn't have mattered if he was going 50 or 100 mph. I don't like to speculate. This is a sensitive time for the family."
Local law enforcement agencies continued to search for Parker on Tuesday.
This morning a team will depart from the Gandy Bridge boat ramp with dogs specially trained to find bodies in the water.
"This is a bit unusual, but we're going to try it," Morse said.
Today marks the third search day. If Parker isn't found by the end of the day, Fish and Wildlife officials will decide whether to keep looking, Morse said.
"It's just such a huge search area. The boat drifted a mile after it flipped, and we can't exactly pinpoint it," Morse said. "It gets to a point where we have to look at our resources."
Parker has been missing since about 2 p.m. Sunday, when his Spectre speedboat flipped about a mile south of the Gandy Bridge.
While that area of the bay has no speed limit, boaters are expected to maintain a "safe and reasonable speed," Morse said.
Morse said the boats were not racing and, even if they had been, there is no law against it.
Parker and one of his female passengers fell from the boat; another clung to the inside of the boat, Davis said.
Davis and his passenger, 25-year-old Gisa Bok of South Tampa, helped rescue the two women who had been aboard Parker's boat, but they couldn't find Parker.
Jodi Forca, 27-year-old owner of the errand-running business Premier Concierge, was treated and released from Tampa General Hospital. She continued to recuperate Tuesday at her South Tampa home, where the cars of loved ones filled the driveway.
Chris Sears, 29, remained in Tampa General with internal injuries, according to her mother, Elizabeth, who flew in from Kentucky on Monday to be with her daughter. Hospital officials said Sears is in good condition.
"She's one of these people who thinks she'll be back to work in two weeks," Elizabeth Sears said. "I'm hoping and praying she will be."
Sears described her daughter as a go-getter who gladly left Kentucky for the sun and sea of Florida. She said Chris, an avid exerciser, graduated from Eastern Kentucky University with a degree in occupational therapy.
She said her daughter occasionally mentioned boating trips, and Parker was a friend.
"I'm afraid of water myself," Sears' mother said. "But she never seemed to worry."
Friends described Parker as an experienced boater, but boating experts continued Tuesday to question why Parker was driving such a powerful vessel by himself, with two women along for the ride.
Stuart James, who lives on a houseboat off the Gandy Bridge, said he was taking his sailboat up the channel Sunday afternoon when he saw two boats engaged in what looked like a race.
But Morse disputed the notion that the two boats were racing.
"They were traveling together, side by side, at a high rate of speed," he said. " And they knew one another, so they'd done this many times before."
- Staff writers Leonora LaPeter, Kevin Graham and Curtis Krueger contributed to this report. Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at 727 226-3373 or [email protected]
[Last modified January 28, 2004, 01:32:11]