Details emerge in boating fatality

by KEITH KINNAIRD
News Editor | July 3, 2020 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — A sudden storm and a lack of boating experience are being cited as the causes that claimed the life of a Colorado woman on Lake Pend Oreille on June 24.

Suzanne Lee Kittelson, 63, of Golden, Colo., drowned after the boat she was on began taking on water and capsized at Martin Bay. Kittelson was last seen underneath the capsized vessel, according to Bonner County Sheriff’s officials.

“An investigation into the incident revealed that a sudden storm and resulting hazardous water conditions was a primary cause of the incident. A lack of boating experience and a lack of knowledge related to local weather and water conditions were likely contributing factors as well,” the sheriff’s office said.

Sheriff’s officials said a group of 10 people from the same family set out on the lake in a northerly direction on the west side of the lake when the sudden storm hit. Swells reached three feet or more.

The boat slowed its speed, but immediately began taking on water when waves splashed over the vessel’s gunwales. A large wave came over the bow and swamped the vessel.

“Within seconds, the boat listed to the starboard and capsized, ejecting all 10 people into the water,” the sheriff’s office said.

Four children who were aboard the boat were wearing life jackets, while the balance of the occupants were not.

A family in a nearby boat saw the distressed vessel and mounted a rescue effort.

“Risking their own lives, the family successfully rescued six people and assisted another until the first vessel from the sheriff’s office arrived on scene, seven minutes after the initial call,” sheriff’s officials said.

The sheriff’s marine patrol rescued three more people. A sheriff’s dive team located Kittelson beneath the stricken vessel.

Alcohol has been ruled out as a factor in the mishap, in addition to mechanical failure of the boat.

“Also, while the vessel was loaded close to its rated capacity, the investigation revealed it did not appear to exceed load limits,” sheriff’s officials said.

The sheriff’s office is recognizing the Good Samaritans that came th the rescue. They are Kelly and Liz O’Hara, along with their sons Shane and Max, who hail from Concord, Calif.

Officials are also recognizing Liam, Pam and Allanna Fitzgerald of Sagle, who allowed the O’Haras to dock at their residence. The Fitzgeralds also provided dry clothes and warm beverages.

“The actions and empathy displayed by these two families represent all that is great about America and the boating community,” the sheriff’s office said.

In addition to the marine patrol, first responders from Selkirk Fire Rescue & EMS, the Sam Owen Fire District, Bonner County EMS and the Idaho Department of Fish & Game also responded to the call.

Sheriff’s officials are recommending members of the public to seek out and attend boater education courses.

The Bonner County Sheriff’s Marine Division hosts regular classes, free of charge, to educate the boating public. Some insurance companies also offer lower rates for customers who have attended boater education classes, BCSO officials said.

For more information, call 208-263-8417, extension 3125, or send an email to marine@bonnercountyid.gov. Courses are also available through the U.S. Coast Guard Auxilliary or the Idaho Department of Parks & Recreation (parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/activities/boating).

Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at kkinnaird@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.