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Berlin Heights man presumed dead after boating accident

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:16 PM

A Berlin Heights man is still missing and presumed dead and a Huron woman is in critical condition in a Toledo hospital after a two-boat accident late Saturday night in Sandusky Bay.

John Johnston, investigator for the division of watercraft of the Sandusky office of Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said two Norwalk residents, a Sandusky man and a woman from Fremont also were involved in the accident, which occurred about 1/8 of a mile off-shore.

Johnston said Ben Miller, 21, of Berlin Heights, was operating a 21-foot Sea Ray with three passengers. Emily Jones, 27, of Norwalk, was not injured; Kevin Lake, 23, also of Norwalk, was treated and released for facial injuries; and Ashley Franklin, 23, of Huron, was life-flighted to St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center in Toledo for serious injuries.

The other boat, a 41-foot Formula, was operated by Phil Steinle, Jr., 53, of Sandusky, who was not injured, His passenger, Rachel Forester, 28, of Fremont, was treated and released for a leg injury.

Steinle did not wait for emergency vehicles, but docked his boat in his regular spot at Venetian Marina and took Forester directly to Firelands Hospital in Sandusky.

Johnston said Lake Erie Towing was the first emergency craft to arrive on the scene and within minutes of two 9-1-1 calls, the Coast Guard, Sandusky Police division of watercraft and the Sandusky Fire Department also were at the scene.

“Everybody was there pretty quickly,” he said.

Even with an extensive search that included sonar equipment brought in from Toledo, Johnston said Miller could not be found. He said the emergency search was finally suspended about 5 p.m. Sunday.

Johnston said the accident evidently occurred just minutes before midnight and Sandusky police received 9-1-1 calls from both boats.

He said his initial investigation has given him “a pretty good idea about what happened,” but he will not release any more details until he coordinates a final report with additional information about the times of the 9-1-1 calls. He said the investigation also will determine whether alcohol was a factor in the accident.

Johnston said his report should be complete this week and no charges are pending at this time.

Johnston said both Miller and Jones were ejected into the water when the boats collided. Lake saw Jones and jumped into the water, swam to her and brought her back to the boat.

The investigator said Franklin was trapped in the bow of the boat by damage caused in the accident, adding both boats suffered extensive damage.

Miller’s boat was damaged in the bow (front) of the boat, Johnston said, and Steinle’s has a 12-foot hole from below the water line to the rub-rail on the port (left) side.

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