The U.S. Coast Guard had closed the Tennessee River where a bass boat ran into a power line and a fisherman was killed Tuesday afternoon.
The Coast Guard sent out a radio message at 3:40 p.m. closing a section of the river and warning of the hazard, but Anthony Szozda and Gary Thacker of Athens didn’t have a marine radio onboard.
Szozda was killed when their boat ran into a transmission line the Tennessee Valley Authority was lifting out of the water to install near Nucor and Independence Tube in western Morgan County near Trinity.
Petty Officer Bill Colclough said the river was closed with a broadcast on channel 16 of VHF radio.
“Any mariner with marine band radio will hear that,” Colclough said. “That’s why we recommend a radio be onboard every vessel.”
Two TVA boats were apparently the only patrols in the area to warn boaters when Szozda was killed.
Justin Maierhofer, TVA vice president of operations, said the two TVA boats tried unsuccessfully to signal and chase the Thacker boat to warn them of the danger.
Alabama Marine Police officer Larry Adams said the boat was speeding toward fishing holes at about 70 mph when the accident occurred.
Colclough said the Coast Guard did not have a boat in the area.
Adams said Marine Police were not notified by TVA that there was a problem in the area.
The area of the river near the accident site remained closed to commercial traffic late this afternoon, Adams said.
Maierhofer confirmed there were no warning lights or signs of the possible danger.
“We’ll get the answers we’re looking for in our investigation,” Maierhofer said. “There will be some lessons learned. We’ll look at notification, warning systems and the number of boats we have patrolling the area.”
Maierhofer said TVA workers were lifting the new power line out of the water when a bass boat ran into it.
Morgan County Coroner Jeff Chunn said he pronounced Szozda, 65, dead at Ingalls Harbor at 6:10 p.m. of blunt force trauma to the head and neck.
Chunn said Szozda was partially decapitated. Officials said the line was not carrying power.
Adams said he first saw TVA working on the power line Friday. He said TVA workers had been working on the line Tuesday since about 2:40 p.m., and they were lifting the power line into place when the accident occurred at about 5:30 p.m.
Szozda, known to his fishing friends as “Ski Daddy,” was the passenger in the boat. He and Thacker were participating in a bass tournament held every Tuesday night out of Ingalls Harbor.
Adams said Szozda was sitting on a bench seat next to Thacker, who was the pilot. The line hit the metal pole to the front pedestal seat before hitting the victim.
He said Thacker dodged the line, losing only his hat, and was uninjured. The pilot and victim were not thrown into the water.
Thacker piloted the boat to Ingalls Harbor after the accident to meet authorities.
Adams said the line bent two pedestal seats and a river anchor, causing an estimated $2,300 damage to the boat. The boat is still usable, he said.
Rob Manning, TVA executive vice president and chief energy delivery officer, released the following statement:
“Today’s (Tuesday’s) accident was an unusual and unfortunate occurrence. Our thoughts go out to the family of the boater who was killed. We are taking this very seriously and are working closely with the authorities to understand the facts around this event.
“TVA exercises all appropriate caution when we do our work at all times. The safety of the public, our employees and our partners is our top priority.”
Limestone Chapel Funeral Home will announce arrangements for Szozda.
Jonathan Poole, of Trinity, said he was piloting a boat that was close behind Szozda and Thacker. He said the power line was just above the top of the water.
“They never saw it,” said Poole, who managed to stop before he hit the line.
Kevin Davis, of Trinity, is a regular in the fishing tournament. Like Poole, he knew Szozda only as Ski Daddy.
“He was just a good ol’ country boy like the rest of us,” Davis said. “He was a good guy.”
Davis said the Tuesday tournament is held for a group of guys who just want to fish and enjoy good company.
“Some nights we’ll have three boats like tonight, and some nights we’ll have 20,” Davis said.
Staff writers Ronnie Thomas and Ben Montgomery contributed to this report.
Bayne Hughes can be reached at 256-340-2432 or email@example.com.