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Police look at speed, alcohol in fatal Tonawanda boating accident

Authorities are looking at speed and possible alcohol involvement as they investigate the fatal boat accident Thursday morning on Ellicott Creek.

“We’re not ruling out speed. We’re not ruling out alcohol,” Town of Tonawanda Police Capt. Joseph F. Carosi said Friday. “Once we speak to all the witnesses and evaluate all the evidence, we will make a determination regarding any possible charges.”

Avery L. Gardner, 16, of Lockport, was killed when she stood up and struck her head on a low footbridge along Ellicott Creek about an hour after sunrise Thursday morning, authorities confirmed.

Three people were aboard the boat at the time of the crash: Avery; a teenage male described as her boyfriend; and a middle-aged man, possibly in his 40s, believed to be a friend of the boyfriend’s family.

They were “out on the boat to watch the sun come up,” according to the Town of Tonawanda police report released to the media Friday.

That report, with large portions redacted, also notes that Avery was taken from the boat on a backboard, that she was bleeding heavily from the nose and that her breathing was labored.

Carosi said the investigation continues, with the help of the State Police and the Erie County Sheriff’s Marine Unit. Detectives also have consulted with the Erie County District Attorney’s Office about possible charges.

Carosi declined to comment further Friday, as did District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III.

“The matter is under investigation by the police,” Sedita said.

Authorities have not said how fast they think the boat was going, how long the boaters had been on the water or who they believe was operating the small recreational vessel at the time of the crash.

Witnesses have claimed that they smelled alcohol on the boat following the accident.

The heavily redacted police report doesn’t address that issue directly.

At one point, the report states that a paramedic “collected a sample” from someone on the boat. And it also hints that investigators want to know the physical condition of the operator, as the report states that one of the people on board “admitted to [redacted] before getting onto the boat.”

Eyewitnesses have said the boat apparently was heading west on the creek, after having gotten gas on the east side of the waterway.