Sheriff's Department investigators today interviewed boaters and searchers in an effort to learn whether the victims of a fatal Niagara River collision were knowingly left in the water after their anchored fishing boat was run down by a speedboat.
Autopsies of the two fishermen who died in the crash were ordered today to determine whether they drowned or died of injuries suffered in the crash about 2:30 a.m. Thursday.
"We're still in the preliminary stages on this," said acting Undersheriff Gerald Mack. "We're still putting the pieces together."
The bodies of Mark Guizzotti, 31, and Alexander H. Dann, 41, who both lived at the same Niagara Street address, were recovered Thursday afternoon by police divers -- more than 10 hours after power boaters had told the Coast Guard they thought they had hit a buoy or submerged object in the river.
A damaged high-performance speedboat, owned by Daniel J. English, 46, of 22 Pearl Ave., Blasdell, limped to a marina on the Niagara River shore and later was seized by police. Sources said English had been the driver early Thursday morning.
Coast Guard officials said the 26-foot vessel, named "Bandit," had suffered hull damage and at least one hull compartment had taken on water.
The larger boat "had been moving fast" when it hit the fishing craft, Mack said, but authorities had not yet estimated from the damage what speed might have been involved.
The damaged and partially submerged fishing boat was spotted in the river hours after the collision. Investigators picking through the wreckage of the "Leapin' Lady" said it appeared the 17-foot boat had been run over, from front to back.
They also noted that a switch for the boat's running light and a spotlight were in the "on" position.
"If they left them to die, that's manslaughter," Mack said, noting that one person who had fallen off the larger boat was plucked from the water immediately after the crash.
"It was too late for alcohol testing," he added, noting that the extent of the accident wasn't known until several hours after the crash.
Guizzotti and Dann "left to go fishing near Strawberry Island at about 11 p.m. Wednesday and did not return," Coast Guard Lt. Thomas Owens said.
Police said the wife of one of the men reported them overdue when they had failed to return home by 9:20 a.m. Thursday.
Hours earlier, the Coast Guard had been alerted to what appeared to be a relatively minor mishap in the river. A caller told the Coast Guard he had been near Strawberry Island after midnight in a speedboat when the boat operator "noticed something in front of them," Lt. Owens said.
"When the operator veered the boat, it hit something, skipped (on the water), one person fell out, and the boat was damaged," the lieutenant reported the caller as saying.
A second boat picked up the man in the water, and the damaged boat tied up at the Harbor Place Marine at the foot of Ontario Street, Owens said.
The person taken from the water was treated at St. Joseph Hospital in Cheektowaga for a broken arm before reporting the accident, according to Sheriff's Department reports.
The Sheriff's Department today continued to withhold the identities of those being questioned.
Detectives were trying to determine exactly who was aboard "Bandit," which reportedly had been at the Pier bar and restaurant on the Buffalo waterfront before the accident. Mack said detectives are getting conflicting information from persons they are interviewing.
After the fishing boat was spotted around noon Thursday near the Sandy Beach Yacht Club, a helicopter was sent up to search the area.
The Sheriff's Marine Patrol and helicopter were aided in the search for the victims by divers from the Buffalo Police Underwater Recovery Unit, who were about to participate in a diving demonstration at the Erie Basin Marina.
The first victim was found in 12 to 15 feet of water at about 1:30 p.m. The second was spotted at about 3:45 p.m. by the undersheriff, who was in a helicopter with pilot Capt. Kevin Caffery.