Jimmy Kelley, 68, of Lilburn, died the morning of May 20, just a month ahead of his 50th wedding anniversary, of complications from injuries sustained in a boat accident. Three other men involved in the accident, which occurred during the blast-off of a Lake Russell pot tournament on May 8, suffered non life-threatening injuries.
Kelley was a passenger in a 20-foot Triton bass boat with a 225-horsepower engine driven by John Davis, of Elberton. The other boat, a 19-foot Ranger with a 200-horsepower engine, was driven by Todd Fowler, 44, of Danielsville. Billy Fowler Sr., of Danielsville, was a passenger in the Ranger, which struck the Triton during the shotgun start of the twice-a-week evening tournament, according to Cpl. Julian Wilkins, with DNR Law Enforcement. The investigation found Fowler at fault and cited him for violating the boating rules of the road.
Cpl. Wilkins, who investigated the case with RFC Nick Jenkins, said the accident happened at about 7 p.m. in 10-15 mph winds, during daylight hours with conditions of good visibility. The boats collided near the main channel in front of the Elbert Boat Ramp off Highway 72 in Elbert County.
Wilkins said Davis told him it is his practice to idle while the other boats clear out before putting his boat on plane, and the investigation found that Davis was idling his Triton from right to left out in front of the Fowler’s in the Ranger.
“They blew the horn (initiating the blast-off), two other boats took off in front of (Fowler), and he was just following those boats,” said Wilkins. “He said it just looked like all of a sudden a boat stopped in front of him.”
Wilkins said Fowler had gotten his boat up on plane, and he was trimming the motor when the accident happened.
“The Ranger boat hit the Triton just behind the passenger seat,” said Wilkins. “It went up, over and through the Triton, and out the other side.”
Kelley took the impact from the collision, while Davis was thrown clear of the accident. Both men in the Ranger boat ended up in the water. Anglers from other boats in the tournament were able to recover the boats and help the men out of the water. None of the men involved in the accident were wearing PFDs.
Kelley suffered extensive injuries from the impact, including fractured ribs, various cuts, broken bones in his face and clavicle and a collapsed lung. He suffered from loss of kidney function and heart complications due to an infection caused by his injuries, according to his brother-in-law Don Dispain. He was pronounced dead at Gwinnett Medical Center after fighting for his life for nearly two weeks.
Wilkins said Fowler was found at fault based on one of two boating rules of the road. He failed to both yield the right-of-way to a boat approaching on the right, and he failed to steer clear while approaching a slower-moving vessel. Fowler currently faces only that charge, but since Kelley’s injuries became fatal, additional charges could be leveled, including counts of homicide by vessel.