Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Florida Authorities Investigate Boating Accident That Killed Two

Florida authorities are continuing to investigate a Saturday boating accident that killed Clinton volunteer firefighter Joseph Battista and a friend who had moved from Westbrook less than two years ago. Battista, 23, and Corey Vincent, 19, died Saturday evening in the collision of their Sea-Doo personal watercraft and a 29-foot powerboat. Battista was visiting Vincent, who lived with her mother and stepfather, James and Judith Dowd, in Madeira Beach, Fla., just across Boca Ciega Bay from St. Petersburg. Advertisement Battista and Vincent were close friends, according to James Dowd. "Joe’s been like her big brother. They were just very good friends. … Any time he needed help, she was there for him and vice versa." Battista’s father, John Battista, is Clinton’s deputy chief for emergency medical services. It’s the second tragedy in six weeks for members of Clinton’s volunteer fire and emergency medical services, after the April 12 death of 39-year-old firefighter Jeff Miller from cancer. Joseph Battista, of 23 Hunters Path, Clinton, was a 2000 graduate of The Morgan School and recently graduated from paramedic school. Vincent, who lived in a house fronting the bay, went to Westbrook High School before the family moved about a year and a half ago, James Dowd said. Vincent attended Pinellas Technical Education Centers, had decided on a massage therapy career and wanted to go to college, Dowd told the St. Petersburg Times. Dowd said his stepdaughter and Battista were excited to try out the family’s new personal watercraft, launching from the house and into the bay, which juts off Tampa Bay on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Gary Moorse, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said the accident occurred one-quarter mile east of congested John’s Pass. "To say that it is heavily trafficked is an understatement," Moorse said. Moorse said Battista and Vincent collided about 6 p.m. with the powerboat operated by Miguel Alvarado of Wesley Chapel, Fla. Although at least 18 people witnessed the accident, Moorse said authorities cannot yet say how the collision took place or whether Vincent or Battista was at the controls of the watercraft. Authorities said Alvarado was allowed to return home after giving officials a blood sample. Investigators have impounded both vessels, Moorse said. The investigation is expected to last two to six weeks. The accident occurred as Florida began observing Safe Boating Week. "It’s just a tragedy," Moorse said. "It’s a tragic loss for the community and the department," Clinton Fire Chief Scott Andrews said of Battista. "He was a very gentle, kind and caring person, and he did a great deal for this town." Battista, like his father, was devoted to emergency medical service and had been working as a paramedic for American Ambulance in Norwich. He also was a volunteer with the Westbrook Ambulance Service. In his 2000 high school yearbook, he lists his "likes" as "skiing, leaving school for fires, saving your life," and his emergency medical technician certificate as one of his most prized possessions. Fellow firefighter Jeremy Hansen said of Battista, "He was everything a volunteer firefighter should be. He had a gigantic heart and couldn’t give enough." In addition to his father, Battista is survived by his mother, Sherry; two brothers, John and Brian; his grandmother, Patricia Fox of Westbrook; and grandfather, John Battista of Virginia. Funeral services are scheduled at 11 a.m. Saturday at the First Congregational Church of Westbrook. Calling hours are from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday at the Swan Funeral Home, 80 E. Main St., Clinton. Memorial contributions may be made to the Joseph M. Battista Scholarship Fund at the Clinton Volunteer Fire Department. Funeral services for Vincent were uncertain late Monday. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The Associated Press and Metro Editor Ed Stannard contributed to this story. http://www.nhregister.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=14576898&BRD=1281&PAG=461&dept_id=517515&rfi=6

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