Our attorneys here at Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A., as well as the Coast Guard and several other maritime agencies, have always tried to emphasize the need to stay safe on the high seas. Accidents can happen at any moment, whether due to unfavorable weather conditions, equipment failure or someone else’s negligence. Although a lot of attention has been placed on Carnival’s several recent incidents and the subsequent lack of safety protocols in the cruise industry, it is important to not overlook recreational boating safety and work on improving regulations for boaters nationwide.
The number of reported boating accidents has been increasing with each passing year, along with the number of serious injuries and fatalities. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 758 boat accident deaths were reported in 2011, representing a staggering 12.8 percent increase in the number of boating-related fatalities.
While there are times in which a boat accident is caused by someone else’s wrongdoing, including operating a vessel while under the influence of alcohol, speeding or general inexperience, there are incidents in which an accident cannot be foreseen, such as a tragic fatal boating accident last weekend, which claimed the life of a well-known and beloved coach.
Berkeley Springs coach, teacher and horseman Ronald Lee Clatterbuck was killed on Saturday, March 30, in a fishing boat accident on the Cacapon River.
Clatterbuck, 75, had been fishing in the early afternoon with his son and grandson, Ross and Chaston Clatterbuck, above the Powerhouse Dam in a small johnboat, when authorities say they encountered a current created by the deteriorating dam.
Morgan County Sheriff Vince Shambaugh, who responded to the accident scene, explains the family had been fishing for several hours in the deep water above the dam and had to adjust their boat’s location several times to avoid the current. However, at some point the boat drifted too close to the dam and Ross Clatterbuck tried to correct its location by getting between the boat and the concrete structure of the dam.
At this point, all three fishermen went over the dam with the boat, dropping approximately 15 feet to the riverbed below. Chaston Clatterbuck was able to pull himself out of the water to safety, but the other two fishermen were washed down the river nearly 150 yards before Ross Clatterbuck was able to pull his father out of the water and contact emergency crews.
Paramedics soon arrived at the boat accident scene and attempted to revive Ronald Clatterbuck, who was unresponsive. He was transported to War Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Neither of the other two boaters required medical attention.
Ronald Clatterbuck will be greatly missed by his loved ones and students. Clatterbuck taught English at Berkeley Springs and several other Morgan County schools from 1961 until he retired in 1995, but continued as a substitute teacher for many years afterward. He was also the former head coach for the Berkeley Springs High School baseball team, leading them to a state championship in 1983.
While this tragic boating accident was not the result of anyone’s wrongdoing or negligence, it does serve as a reminder that all boaters should wear a life jacket at all times while out in the water, especially if boating in an area where waters are deep.
Life jackets can – and do – save lives, preventing boaters from drowning when they fall or are tossed from their vessels.
The Coast Guard reports that the majority of boating fatalities (70 percent) in 2011 were the result of drowning. But what’s even more alarming is the fact that 84 percent of victims who drowned were not wearing life jackets.
Each boating accident attorney at our firm knows just how important it is to wear life jackets and abide by proper maritime laws in order to stay safe at sea. The more boaters take preventative measures to avoid accidents, the less likely a debilitating incident will occur.