Third powerboater's demise adds to tragedy of Missouri racers' deaths

Two competitors from Lake of the Ozarks died Wednesday

Stephen Page, center, is consoled at a memorial service for the loss of his racing teammate, Joey Gratton, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011, in Key West, Fla. On Friday, Nov. 11, Page and Gratton rolled over in their powerboat during the Key West World Championship. Page survived the accident with minor physical injuries, but Gratton died after being airlifted to a Miami trauma center, marking the third death from the event.

Stephen Page, center, is consoled at a memorial service for the loss of his racing teammate, Joey Gratton, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011, in Key West, Fla. On Friday, Nov. 11, Page and Gratton rolled over in their powerboat during the Key West World Championship. Page survived the accident with minor physical injuries, but Gratton died after being airlifted to a Miami trauma center, marking the third death from the event. Photo by The Associated Press.

MIAMI (AP) — An offshore powerboat racer has died after being critically injured in an accident at the Key West World Championship, the third racer killed during the boating competition. Two competitors from central Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks area died earlier in the week.

Joey Gratton, 59, of Sarasota, Fla., died Saturday morning at the Ryder Trauma Center in Miami from injuries sustained Friday, said Super Boat International spokesman Roderick Cox. Gratton’s racing partner Stephen Page, of Fort Myers, was released from the hospital Saturday.

About 200 people gathered at a memorial for Gratton Saturday afternoon, including Page, who still had green bandages wrapped around one arm and hospital bracelets on his wrist. Mourners wore Page Motorsports T-shirts and took turns hugging him after the memorial.

Although the competition has claimed three lives, race officials said Saturday they will continue with Sunday’s scheduled races.

“We’re racing tomorrow,” said John Carbonell, president of Super Boat International, the race’s sanctioning body. “That’s what they’re here for. They know when they come to a race the potential of accidents.”

photo

In this photo, provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau, rescue personnel, right, work on extracting offshore powerboat racers Robert M. Morgan of Sunrise Beach, Mo., and Jeffrey Tillman of Kaiser, Mo., after their 46-foot catamaran crashed Nov. 9, 2011, during the Key West World Championship. Both racers died as a result of the accident.

On Wednesday, powerboat racers Robert M. Morgan, 74, of Sunrise Beach, Mo., and Jeffrey Tillman, 47, of Kaiser, Mo., died when their 46-foot catamaran Big Thunder Marine crashed during a race inside Key West Harbor. They were piloting the boat as throttleman and driver respectively.

Wednesday was the first day of racing, and a memorial gathering was held the following day. Carbonell said he witnessed Wednesday's crash, which occurred adjacent to a spectator area.

“He was probably going about 130 mph and the boat’s propellers were barely in the water,” Carbonell said. “The boat apparently caught some air and went bow (front) up; straight into the air, came down and went backwards.”

Carbonell said rescue divers deployed to the accident site in less than a minute. Both Missouri men were removed from the wreckage of the catamaran and transported to Lower Keys Medical Center.

Tillman died either before or just after arrival at the hospital, and Morgan apparently soon after leaving Key West aboard an air trauma ambulance, according to organizers.

Carbonell said the force of the boat coming down was powerful and crushing.

Morgan had come out of retirement to race with SBI this year, Carbonell said.

“He told me a few days ago that this (Key West) was his last hurrah,” he said “He was a helluva of a nice guy and is going to be missed.”

On Friday, Gratton and Page were on the final lap of the day's seven-lap race when their 38-foot Superboat 850-class Skater catamaran rolled over twice at checkpoint 1 of the 6.5-mile course.

Page, 57, was able to get himself out and was taken to Lower Keys Medical Center. Gratton had to be pulled out of the water by rescue divers and was airlifted to the hospital.

At Saturday’s memorial, the Rev. Jim Black of Racing Performance Ministries said Gratton’s wife had sent word to thank everyone and given him a message to share.

“She says, ‘On race day, if you’re racing, race safe,”’ Black said. “She doesn’t want to lose any more family members.”

Black, who described Gratton as a friend, spoke of his infectious smile and talkative demeanor.

“I’m sure that Joey hasn’t stopped talking yet,” Black said. “I’m sure he’s in heaven and he’s seeing some people he knows.”

Tony Marcantonio, the owner and driver of the boat Page was chasing during the race, said participants will race Sunday with a different mindset.

“We’ll probably take turns a little slower, we’ll probably take speeds a little slower, and personally, I’ll race with those guys on my mind, like I did yesterday,” Marcantonio said.

Marcantonio said the speeds at which they were racing Friday were not extreme, and that they had gone up to 10 or 15 miles an hour faster in Key West.

“It’s a very passionate sport with a lot of owners that put their own lives on the line,” he said.

Carbonell said Friday that preliminary information suggested Gratton’s boat may have gone into a turn too fast. He said turns are where accidents are most likely to occur, and that race officials have medics stationed near the course’s trickiest points to ensure a fast response.

———

Online:

Key West World Championship: http://www.superboat.com

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Please review our Policies and Procedures before registering or commenting

News Tribune - comments