Chippewa County (WQOW) - Hundreds of pages of interviews and other documents fail to clearly show whether one of the boat operators involved in a fatal crash last summer was more at fault than the other.
Four people were killed in that crash when two boats collided on the Chippewa River. An investigation was recently completed and sent to the Chippewa County district attorney. WQOW News 18 filed an open records request with the DNR to view the investigation.
The report includes interviews with all of the survivors, witnesses, and rescuers. Robert Romanshek was driving the deck boat that collided with a speedboat. Mark Michels was driving the speedboat. He was killed in the crash. Investigators say both boat throttles were at full speed. Romanshek's had a 150-horsepower motor, while the speedboat was 300-horsepower.
Romanshek told investigators the oncoming boat, driven by Michels, crossed in front of him. Romanshek says he turned hard left to avoid a collision, but that Michels turned the same way and hit him. An EMT at the scene that night says he overheard Romanshek tell his daughter, "I didn't see them and then they were there and I turned into them." When wardens asked what could have been done differently to avoid a collision, Romanshek said he could have slowed down when he first saw the other boat's lights, and says Michels could have picked one direction and stuck with it.
A passenger in Romanshek's boat, Greg Voight, backed up Romanshek's claim that Michels' boat came across the river toward them. He told investigators it appeared Michels was 'playing chicken' with them, saying 'every move we made, he turned toward us."
The reports show that both Romanshek and Michels were intoxicated, and that Michels had drugs in his system, for which he had prescriptions. Romanshek also had marijuana in his system. Police say he was staggering, slurring his words, and failed field sobriety tests.
The only passenger in Michels' boat told investigators she does not remember anything about the crash or the moments before that.
Shortly before the crash, an acquaintance of Michels saw him on the river. He told investigators that Michels liked to go fast and says he always knew Michels would kill himself going fast.
The widow of one of the three men killed on Romanshek's boat showed investigators a text she had received from her husband about 45 minutes before the crash. It read-- "We r kinda far away going really really really fast I don't know where we r."
The Chippewa County district attorney is now reviewing the report and will make a decision on whether any criminal charges are filed.
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