INDIAN SHORES — Seven teens, ages 16-17, were on their way home from a Halloween party in the Treasure Island area about 12:30 a.m. Nov. 1 when the boat they were traveling in struck a mile marker and crashed.
All were thrown from the boat into the water. None were wearing a life preserver. A 16-year-old girl was found dead in the water near the scene. All but one is students at Osceola Fundamental High School in Seminole.
Pinellas County Sheriff’s Bob Gualtieri provided preliminary details about what he described as a “really tragic situation” during a press conference in Indian Shores on Sunday morning.
He said the story begins about 7:30 p.m. Oct. 31 when a 16-year-old male from Largo and five other juveniles left on a 24-foot Yellowfin boat to go to a Halloween party in the Treasure Island area. Gualtieri said the residence has a St. Petersburg address and is located off the Treasure Island Causeway.
Gualtieri said they stopped along the way to pick up another juvenile, who brought alcohol — beer and hard seltzers — on the boat. They arrived at the party about 9 p.m.
The sheriff said about 30-40 kids were partying on the first floor of the residence. According to witnesses, they were drinking and smoking marijuana. Adults were present on the second floor.
About midnight, the seven got back on the boat to go home. They made one stop to let somebody off and then continued northbound in the Intracoastal Waterway.
The boat then hit Channel Marker 28, ejecting everyone into the water, Gualtieri said. The kids realized that a 16-year-old girl was missing. Deputies used a phone app to locate her body about a half mile south. Gualtieri identified her as Rachel Herring.
After the boat hit the channel marker, it continued on at what the sheriff said appeared to be a high rate of speed before it crashed into the sea wall.
“Speed is definitely a factor and there are other factors,” Gualtieri said.
The 16-year-old operator of the boat has been charged with vessel homicide. Specific charges are pending, Gualtieri said.
He said according to preliminary information the 16-year-old was not under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash. Deputies that responded to the scene said he did not appear to be impaired. Witnesses told deputies that he had consumed some alcohol, but it had been many hours prior to the crash.
However, there were lighting problems on the boat, which Gualtieri said the 16-year-old knew about. In addition, there was the speeding in a no wake zone. A video taken just prior to the crash reportedly shows the boat’s bow up out of the water and “going extremely fast,” Gualtieri said.
One other juvenile suffered minor injuries and was taken to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.
The sheriff’s office has a search warrant for all the boat’s electronics. The crash is still under investigation.