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July 11, 2011

NY boat crash rescuer: I saw 4 bodies in water

By Michael Hill
Associated Press

RED HOOK, N.Y. — The first rescuer to the scene of a fatal boat crash on New York's Hudson River said Monday that he found a badly shaken woman, then saw four dead bodies in the water.

Marc Hildenbrand, fire chief in the village of Tivoli, got the call about 6:30 a.m. Sunday, two hours after the 19-foot Chris Craft bow rider hit a U-shaped concrete structure close to the river's eastern shore. An ambulance crew was dispatched to a nearby estate where another survivor had called 911.

The boat's bow and bottom were seriously damaged, leading authorities to believe the driver had been speeding.

Hildenbrand found Jessica K. Hotaling of Hyde Park, 27, on the shore and saw the boat half in and half out of the water. He first saw three bodies, then four. He said he knew they were dead so he started taking care of Hotaling.

"I was just trying to get here to calm down," Hildenbrand said Monday. "She was cold."

Hotaling was conscious and said her back hurt. She didn't describe how the crash happened.

"She was not talking very much," he said. "She was upset."

The other survivor, 23-year-old Joseph Vehnick, had already clambered up a 20-foot embankment and across two sets of railroad tracks to an open garage at an estate, where he made the emergency call.

It wasn't immediately clear where the boat was coming from or headed and who was driving, said Lt. John Watterson of the Dutchess County sheriff's office. The medical examiner was conducting autopsies Sunday to determine the victims' cause of death, he said.

Authorities found beer bottles inside the boat and believe the occupants might have been drinking, Watterson said.

Investigators are still trying to determine what happened in the moments before the boat crashed as it made its way north only 10-15 yards from the shore about 45 miles south of Albany, Watterson said.

The body of 26-year-old John J. Uvino of Saugerties was found in the water, and it appeared he was thrown from the boat on impact, Watterson said. Divers recovered the bodies of three other boaters: Robert P. Macarthur, 27, of Kingston; Deena C. Cordero, 26, of Kingston; and Jay J. Bins, 41, of Kingston.

Vehnick, of Kingston, and Hotaling suffered multiple broken bones and were being treated at hospitals.

Part of the boat was still sticking out of the water when rescuers arrived. Its bow had smashed into the concrete, which may have been part of a dock or other shoreline structure there previously. It was unclear whether it was marked off by a buoy, Watterson said.

The boat was pulled from the water and brought to an impound lot.

The powerboat, which has a single deck with no quarters below, is known as a bow rider because its passengers generally ride up front while the driver sits behind them.

The boat was registered to Arthur Fiore in Kingston. Messages were left at two phone numbers in that name Monday morning.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.