A husband and wife from Decatur were arrested Wednesday and charged with criminally negligent homicide in a fatal July 4 two-boat collision on Smith Lake, according to court documents.
A Winston County grand jury indicted Nick Bowling Suggs and Jodi Wallace Suggs, both 50, 4204 Horseshoe Bend S.E., earlier this week, according to the district attorney’s office.
The indictments allege the couple “did with criminal negligence cause the death of another person, Kelsey Starling, by striking the vessel she was aboard causing her to be thrown therefrom ... ."
The arrest reports list the charges as Class A misdemeanors, which are punishable by a maximum of one year in prison.
The Suggses have arraignments scheduled for 9 a.m. Oct. 3 in Winston County Circuit Court, according to court records.
Winston County Jail Administrator James Whitman said they turned themselves in just before noon Wednesday and were released at 1:08 p.m. after posting $3,000 bail each.
“The warrant for their arrest was issued Tuesday, and they came in today,” Whitman said. He said they bonded out with the services of A&S Bail Bonding Co., of Birmingham.
Starling, 26, of Troy, a passenger on a 2012 Mastercraft boat operated by William Jackson Fite, remains missing after the crash in the deep Rock Creek area of the lake and is presumed dead.
The family held a memorial service for Starling at the First Baptist Church of Troy on Aug. 10. According to published reports, family members and friends said Starling was an elementary school teacher in Birmingham last school year.
The accident occurred about 10 p.m. July 4. The Suggses were in a 2011 Harris Flotebote pontoon boat which the Alabama Marine Police on the day after the accident said was operated by Jodi Suggs. Five people were injured in the collision and four were taken to area hospitals, troopers said. The Mastercraft boat capsized and all of its passengers went into the water, Alabama Marine Police said.
Fite, 23, a Decatur native who court records list with an Atlanta address, was charged last month with boating under the influence, a misdemeanor.
Following news of the indictments and Wednesday arrests, Starling’s family released a statement to media outlets:
“Our daughter, sister, and granddaughter, Kelsey Starling is missing and presumed dead since July 4, 2019, following a boating incident on Smith Lake. We appreciate the tireless efforts of law enforcement and search personnel to locate Kelsey. We also very much appreciate the love and support we have received from so many individuals at Smith Lake and throughout our state. We have been especially touched by the blue Kelsey ribbons that have seemingly appeared everywhere in Alabama and states beyond. This has provided our family significant comfort.
"We understand that an indictment has now been issued in connection with Kelsey’s death; we will not comment on the indictment at this time. We look forward to receiving information yielded from the investigation that resulted in this indictment. The family will have no further comment on this issue at this time, as our efforts remain focused on the recovery of Kelsey’s remains.”
The Winston County District Attorney’s Office is handling the prosecution of the case.
Efforts to recover Starling’s body resumed Monday and will continue through Friday, according to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency.
Winston County Emergency Management Agency Director Jimmy Madison said his crew is helping ALEA in the search. A spokesman for the Houston County Search and Rescue unit from southeast Alabama confirmed they have rejoined the search efforts, too. ALEA said personnel from Smith Lake Task Force and Deepwater Search and Recovery are also participating in the search efforts.
The initial search efforts lasted 15 days and were suspended indefinitely July 19. More than 20 agencies took part in that search. Authorities say divers are hampered by 21,200-acre Smith Lake's depth, which is up to 260 feet in the area, and its underwater forests.