KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency says this has been one of their busiest Fourth of July weekends with a second drowning, multiple boat accidents, a rescue on Chilhowee Mountain and five arrests for boating under the influence.
“We’ve investigated at least a dozen boating accidents or boating incidents on Fort Loudoun and Norris lakes alone. We’ve arrested six operators for boating under the influence of drugs or alcohol, we’ve had a couple of boats sink, we’ve had two boat fires, and we’ve had two drownings,” said Matt Cameron with TWRA.
The second drowning happened early Monday morning. TWRA says Jereme Peltier, 34, of Knoxville, died after falling into Ft. Loudoun Lake from one of several boats rafted together in the Prater Flats area. Witnesses said they heard a splash and began checking boats to try to account for everyone. When they realized Peltier was missing, they called 911. Blount County Rescue Squad divers were able to find his body.
Peltier’s 12-year-old son was the only person with him and the child’s next-of-kin was out of state. One of TWRA’s accident investigators stayed with the boy through the night until he was picked up by extended family.
The first drowning of the weekend happened on Norris Lake Saturday night. Officials say William E Blasius, 19, of Knoxville, died after jumping from the top of a houseboat near Sequoyah Marina. Witnesses said he was trying to jump over another boat and struck that boat before disappearing into 30 feet of water.
Also at Norris Lake, officers investigated Friday two boating accidents before the Fire on the Water fireworks show and two boating accidents after the show. A couple was rescued from a sinking vessel near Sequoyah Marina while two boats collided in a separate incident near Waterside Marina. Two personal watercraft collided in the Big Creek area of Norris and a person fell off Blue Springs Dock.
Sunday, a houseboat tied to the shoreline of Norris Lake between Anderson County Park and Stardust marina caught fire. No one was injured. Two people were arrested for BUI on Norris Lake as well.
The water was choppy for some boaters on Monday.
“You have to keep an eye on everything around you, front, back side to side. You never know if you’ve got a jet ski coming or a skier. You’ve got to keep your eyes open,” said boater Rick Gonzalez.
TWRA officers encourage everyone to wear their life jackets if they plan on spending any time on the water.
“We always have these on the jet ski because it’s just so easy to fall off of them,” said Heather Winter.
Other incidents on Ft. Loudoun Lake this weekend included a boat that overturned in the Beal’s Chapel area of Lenoir City around 9 p.m. Sunday, ejecting two people. Neither was injured. A family of eight got lost on Chilhowee Mountain around 10:45 p.m. Sunday. Officers used a GPS coordinate from an emergency cell phone to find the missing group at 3 a.m. One of the eight was a 76-year-old suffering from hypothermia.
Around 11 p.m. a boat ran across a sandbar and was taking on water in Ish Creek near International Harbor Marina. No one was hurt. Around 1:55 a.m. Sunday, a docked boat caught fire in Ish Creek. Witnesses said there was a neighborhood fireworks show, which may have started the fire.
Three people were arrested for BUI on Ft. Loudoun Lake. “I promise you, if you choose to boat under the influence, eventually it’s going to catch up to you. You’re going to slip up, our officers will catch you and hold you accountable,” said Cameron.
Officers are also still looking for the driver of a jet ski who hit a family on a boat on Melton Hill Lake on Thursday, injuring four people, and then drove off.
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TWRA says it will have seven patrol boats present at Knoxville’s Festival on the Fourth fireworks show with the hopes of creating a safe boating atmosphere.