Watercraft accident draws huge media attention

The South Lake Tahoe Police Department continued Tuesday to investigate a personal watercraft accident that killed two young cousins.

"I have talked to every news crew in the entire region, it feels like," said Lt. Terry Daniels. "The investigation got delayed a couple hours because of that."

Daniels fielded requests from television stations in Reno, Bay area media outlets and newspapers from Barstow and Sacramento.

"It's the most (media attention) we've had in some time and I'm sure that's attributed to the victims being children," Daniels said.

Monday's accident off Ski Run Marina Village killed 15-year-old Ashley Wagner and 6-year-old Jordan Cockrell. The two cousins were sharing a rented Waverunner. They lost control of the personal watercraft and hit another cousin who sat on an idling Waverunner.

A final report by Boating Safety Officer Steve O'Brien is expected to be completed today.

Coroner Pete Van Arnum was waiting Tuesday afternoon for a doctor so an autopsy can be conducted. Van Arnum said Jordan and Ashley either died from internal injuries or drowning, even though the two were wearing life jackets.

California law states a person must be 16 to rent a personal watercraft. In Nevada, it's 14. O'Brien was also investigating a law that states a personal watercraft driver must be 18 to have a passenger.

Assistant District Attorney Hans Uthe said his office was waiting for reports.

"We're not in a position to comment because we haven't received anything," Uthe said. "We'll wait and see what gets presented."

Phone calls to the manager at Ski Run Boat Company were not returned.

At Zephyr Cove Marina on the Nevada side, the minimum age to rent a Waverunner is 15 years old. Assistant Manager Josh Bainton said workers are vigilant to assure riders are of required age.

"We just want (riders) to be safe, including ourselves," he said.

Nita Boles, national spokeswoman and co-founder of the Coalition of Parents and Families for Personal Watercraft Safety, was saddened from the news of the two deaths.

Boles' 16-year-old daughter was killed in a 1998 Fourth of July personal watercraft accident on a lake in Texas. Her group's goal is to have mandatory education in boating safety.

"Imagine the pilot of your plane not having some form of education and he's flying you somewhere," she said. "Personal watercraft is the entry-level craft. They're quite dangerous in the hands of someone who is an uneducated boater."

Contact William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com


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