FWC: Boater Chris Zutes killed in crash

11:37 AM, Jul 5, 2012   |    comments
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Video: Boater missing after crash near Howard Frankland Bridge


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TAMPA, Florida -- Despite the dark water and strong currents, search and rescue crews didn't give up their search for 28-year-old Chris Zutes after he went missing on Wednesday night.

Investigators from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commision (FWC) say Zutes was ejected from his 20-foot flat boat after it crashed into a navigational marker around 7 p.m. in the area of Culbreath Isles, between the Howard Frankland Bridge and the Gandy Bridge.

Sadly, Tampa Police Department's dive team found his body several hours later in the water near the area of Culbreath Isles at around 11:45 p.m.

"We just wanted to get closure for the family and make sure we're not going to leave anybody out there," said Officer Baryl Martin with Florida Fish and Wildlife.

Officer Martin says Zutes was leaving a house in the Culbreath Isles area. Investigators say the force of the crash ejected him from the boat, which then crashed into a seawall.

Witnesses say the operator may have been racing a jet ski around the time of the crash, but investigators could not confirm this claim.

FWC sent an investigator out again Thursday to the crash scene to ensure they didn't miss any evidence that may help them piece together what exactly caused him to crash into the marker.

"It's a little more difficult investigating than a vehicle crash just due to the absence of evidence left on the ground," said. Ofc. Martin.

Ariel Jemenez was boating with his family in the area at the time of the crash and watched as the Coast Guard helicopter flew just feet over the water. "Like, maybe 10 feet out of the water looking everywhere. They couldn't find him," said Jemenez.

"Our hearts go out to the family, I can't imagine losing a son," said Officer Martin, "This will hopefully remind people of the importance of having all of your safety equipment on your boat."

Zutes was not wearing a life vest when he was found.

FWC is the lead agency heading up the investigation.

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