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Charges: Drunken boater attempted coverup after fatal crash

  • Article by: Paul Walsh
  • Star Tribune
  • November 1, 2013 - 8:46 PM

A Twin Cities boater was drunk when he crashed into rocks on the St. Croix River, killing a friend on board, according to charges that also allege the boater told an angler coming to his aid that his drinking buddy was not dead and police should not be called.

Patrick A. Puhalla, 47, of Bayport, was charged by summons with five crimes Thursday in Wisconsin’s Pierce County Circuit Court, among them homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle and operating a boat and causing injury while intoxicated.

Puhalla’s blood alcohol content at the time of the June 5 crash, north of Kinnickinnic State Park, was 0.114, according to state crime lab results. That’s above the legal limit of 0.08.

Killed in the crash shortly before midnight was David J. Riley, 40, of Afton. Injured along with Puhalla was passenger Daniel M. Schulte, 55, of Hudson, Wis.

One of two anglers who came up to the damaged boat told investigators that Puhalla said “not to call the cops” and assured them that Riley was only sleeping, not mortally injured.

Puhalla was not available to comment about the allegations.

According to the criminal complaint:

Schulte told sheriff’s deputies that he and the other men were on their way back from Boat Drinks Bar in Prescott, Wis., to the Windmill Marina in Afton. He added that Puhalla was testing new navigation equipment on the boat and traveling between 25 and 30 miles per hour. Schulte said he and Riley were asleep at the time of the crash.

First responders boarded the boat and noted that Puhalla smelled of alcohol. They checked on the well-being of Riley and found no pulse, and he was declared dead within 40 minutes of the crash.

A deputy arrived and placed Puhalla under arrest.

A search of the boat by law enforcement officers turned up a bag near the operator’s post containing ice and cans of beer. There were also beers in the refrigerator and numerous empty beer cans in the garbage can.

Puhalla’s son told investigators that his father had gone on such Wednesday night outings with friends for at least the past 10 years.

Speaking to investigators a week after the crash, Puhalla said his new electronics were supposed to be operating the boat and that the radar had told him to go right. By the time he saw the trees it was too late to avoid crashing, he added.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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