Fisherman Dies as Boat Capsizes in Bay; Wake of Yacht May Have Been the Cause

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A San Diego fisherman drowned when his boat capsized in San Diego Bay off Shelter Island Tuesday morning--apparently after a luxury cabin cruiser had sped by, creating a formidable wake.

Thomas Corona, 64, of the 1700 block of Petra Drive, died after several attempts at resuscitation at the scene and at Sharp Cabrillo Hospital, the county medical examiner's office said.

His boat, the 40- to 45-foot Chaser, was returning from a fishing trip, Harbor Police Sgt. Robert Irwin said. He said it flipped over in about 45 feet of water in the main ship channel about 300 yards south of Shelter Island, near buoy 16.

Irwin said witnesses said the Chaser, as well as an 80-foot, white cabin cruiser, were headed into the bay, toward downtown, side by side.

The witnesses said the wake from the bigger boat--which they said was traveling at about 25 m.p.h.--could have caused the Chaser to capsize. The witnesses said the cabin cruiser, which had gold lettering on its stern, continued down the bay without stopping.

Irwin also said the witnesses, who were on shore, could not make out the name of the boat other than it ending in the word sea .

Meanwhile, the Chaser, which witnesses said had been traveling about 5 m.p.h., rolled over, and very little was visible above water.

"It virtually capsized to where the hull tucked over and rolled on its starboard side," Irwin said.

A 41-foot U.S. Coast Guard rescue boat, which was within two minutes of the Chaser, immediately responded, Coast Guard Petty Officer Bill Driscoll said.

Divers from the Harbor Police arrived shortly after, fighting to free Corona, who was trapped underneath.

Once Corona was pulled onto the rescue boat, the divers performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Meanwhile, the boat's only other occupant, 49-year-old Ben Storniolo of San Diego, swam away from the Chaser and was pulled from the water unharmed.

Irwin said authorities did not find the boat the witnesses had described. "The description was real sketchy," he said.

If the boat is located, he said, it's unclear whether the captain could be prosecuted.

"We would need to determine if there was any negligence on his part," Irwin said. "According to witnesses (the captain of the cabin cruiser) might not even have been aware of what happened."

According to Driscoll, there is no speed limit in the bay "per se, but you are responsible for the safe operation of your vessel."

"People are responsible for any damage their wake puts up," Irwin added. Harbor Police are investigating.

Tuesday evening, the Harbor Police, who had been using flotation devices to try to raise the boat, said they will attempt it again today in conjunction with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

"It was an effort, but they did not get it up all the way," Harbor Police Sgt. Sharon Bergan said. "Part of it is showing" above the water.

She said authorities had not contacted any vessels thought to have been the cabin cruiser described by the witnesses.

"We got some information they are going to follow up with" today, she said.

Although the vessel capsized in the main shipping channel, Bergan said it would not be a cause of trouble for other ships navigating the passage Tuesday night and this morning.

"Where it is right now is over closer to the North Island. It's not as much of a hazard as it could be," she said.

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