Capsize: The Ugly Truth About Those Charming Water Vessels Known As Paddle Boats, Pedal Boats and Pedalos; and Death of Young Man at Lake Terramere

Capsized Paddle Wheeler Limited Edition paddle boat
Capsized Paddle Wheeler Limited Edition paddle boat.

Boat Accident Involving Death: Liability & Investigation Can Turn to Civil Court When Crime Is Not Involved

Rescue efforts for Huntley man who died at Lake Terramere in far north Arlington Heights on Memorial Day 2019 a paddle boat capsized.

You may think of a paddle boat or pedal boat — also known as a pedalo — as a charming, very simple, slow-moving, safely-operated boat across a picturesque lake. However, Cardinal News found pedal boats are not always that safe, and their safety may depend on original features, maintenance and storage practices. On Memorial Day May 27, 2019 about 3:30 p.m. victims and witnesses to a tragedy discovered how unsafe a pedal boat can be; after Huntley resident David J. Fournier, age 44, was killed when a pedal boat capsized. These boats are often called paddle boats, but technically they are pedal boats or pedalos.

When a police department determines that a crime has not occurred in an incident involving the death of a person, their investigation may end; but investigation by wrongful death and personal injury attorneys, such as the three highly regarded Chicago law firms of Aleksy-Belcher, Clifford Law, or Corboy & Demetrio may be just beginning in cases they determine to be actionable. Currently in the domain of death, loss, and destruction; police departments are busy enough looking for criminal evidence in all types of incidents in their daily work. Unfortunately for the victim and the family suffering the anguish of a non-criminal wrongful death or severe personal injury, the family usually doesn’t always get a lot of direct help from police departments for the purpose of gathering evidence for product liability, owner liability or other liability. The evidence collection would pale in comparison to a criminal investigation’s evidence collection by a police department.

In the course of the initial police investigation of the Lake Terramere incident, police hopefully conducted many interviews of witnesses that may have observed the events that led up to the awful capsizing of the pedal boat.

Witnesses were hopefully asked whether they noticed anything unusual about the boat, such as whether it was listing or whether the hull seemed low in the water before it capsized. This could indicate the boat was poorly maintained or that a defect may have caused water (and added weight) to enter the area between the deck and the hull. The added water weight in the hull could pre-dispose the boat to capsize. At least one pedal boat manufacturer claims their boats are unsinkable, but the manufacturer doesn’t claim their boats don’t capsize.

As the Cook County Medical Examiner rules on the cause of death, which could be drowning, head trauma from being hit by the boat, or a heart attack from over-exertion while struggling to save others that were on the boat; attorneys may go to work investigating for a wrongful death lawsuit.

Since there was no crime suspected, the boat was not confiscated by police for investigation. This makes it very important for wrongful death attorneys to quickly file a protective order in Cook County Circuit Court to secure evidence. The protective order(s) could apply to the boat itself, and any backyard security video, such as Ring video, that may have captured the image of the boat crossing the lake before it capsized, or the actual capsizing of the boat. Video may capture whether the boat was listing before it was launched at the dock or shore, or video may capture an image of the boat listing or sinking as it crossed the lake. Video may also capture whether life vests were being worn, whether or not there was reckless conduct, or whether or not there appeared to be alcohol intoxication. A witness said there were two parties going on that Memorial Day afternoon.

A FOIA request could be obtained to receive a copy of the police report with witness statements.

If there was no reckless conduct or alcohol intoxication, this can put the blame more squarely on the boat manufacturer, the owner of the boat, or even the Terramere Homeowner’s Association if there were no safety guidelines provided by the managers of the lake regarding boat maintenance and operation, and allowable boats on the lake. An association could also be liable if intoxicated boat operators were not prohibited from operating on the lake.

After the Protective Order, it becomes unlawful for anyone to destroy evidence, destroy video, destroy the boat, or make the boat disappear. If the owner of the boat or someone acting on behalf of the owner destroys the boat, that act is known as Spoliation of Evidence, which is the intentional, reckless, or negligent withholding, hiding, altering, fabricating, or destroying of evidence relevant to a legal proceeding.

It is probably more difficult to prove Spoliation of Evidence if evidence is destroyed before a Protective Order is filed in Cook County Circuit Court. Also, time is of the essence, because security images captured can be automatically overwritten after a short time period.

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Security video and news media video can be very important in the investigation of a civil case. Even news video can inadvertently capture additional evidence or prove that someone is giving a false testimony or even lying. Often there is additional video captured by news media that was not published or broadcast for the news report.

Capsized Paddle Wheeler Limited Edition paddle boat
Capsized Paddle Wheeler Limited Edition paddle boat after being uprighted — possibly involved in the fatal incident (not confirmed by officials). The “load draft” appears to show listing port side with excessive water displacement and a high “waterline” on the hull.

Yes, Even Pedal Boats Are Dangerous


If the boat wasn’t properly maintained and had water between the hull and the deck, the water can collect in the hull to a point that can cause the pedal boat (pedalo) to flip and capsize.

The boats can flip slowly and then violently, resulting in people being hit in the head by the boat, or can cause people to become entrapped under the boat.

According to directboats.com (an online seller of boats and accessories), there are a variety of features available on pedal boats, such as foam-filled hulls and self-bailing boats that can even take rainwater through the boat into the lake water. However, the company warns that even when there is no water visible at the top or deck of some boats, that does not necessarily mean that the boat isn’t holding water inside the hull and out of sight of boat operators (adding weight to the boat). Keep in mind that water is a fluid that can suddenly shift weight distribution in the hull. Some boats have pieces that are stapled together and sealed with putty that eventually leaks and causes water to accumulate in the hull. Some boats have drain plugs that could be a point of failure. Some pedal boats are rotomolded and sealed when they leave the mold, causing them to become self-bailing upon molding. When the factory drills holes to mount things such as drive shafts, handles cleats, Bimini tops, etc., the installation points don’t create a leak at first, but they will leak over time typically, according to directboats.com. The boat seller recommends that a self-bailing feature is not as important as foam-filled pontoons in pedal boat construction.

However, foam still absorbs water slowly over time, so DirectBoats recommends the safest no-maintenance boat has a self-bailing deck with sealed and foam filled pontoons.

Pedal boat users should be aware if the deck seems low and close to the lake water’s surface, this could indicate the hull is holding water or the foam core is soaked with water. The boat could take on more water in the hull during operation; or unbalanced distribution of weight of passengers on the pedal boat could cause the hull to take on more water when it dips below the surface. Either condition could cause capsizing of the boat.

Lake Terramere is a private lake. The Arlington Heights Park District owns property adjacent to the lake on the west side of the lake. According to the Arlington Heights Park District website, there is no public swimming allowed at Lake Terramere, but there are no obvious signs along the shore that say no swimming, and there are no obvious signs near the western shore warning against unauthorized boat operation, or signs that promote boat safety at Lake Terramere. The north, south and east shores and part of the west shore (to the north) of Lake Terramere involve private property.

In the case of a death or severe personal injury incidents that are possibly actionable, it is important that the victim’s family act quickly and seek a law firm that has experience and history with maximum investigative resources to collect evidence, and to lead to recovery of maximal compensation — especially to provide for family and children.

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A casual cruise on Bear Creek in Baltimore, Maryland wreaked havoc on the passengers of this electric paddle boat. Dawny Brotzman bought a brand new electric paddle boat as a source for exercise and decided to take her retired parents for a ride. After only being on the water for 20 minutes, the boat began to fill with water, ultimately leading to it capsizing.