Speed, alcohol may have played role in fatal crash


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Story by: Janai Norman
Updated: 5/15/2013 10:40 pm Published: 5/15/2013 8:55 am


The Grand River Dam Authority is investigating a boat collision on Grand Lake that killed two people early Tuesday evening.

Investigators say there are indications that alcohol and speed are some of the contributing factors in the crash.

FOX23 News has confirmed Rachel Swetnam of Grove, OK and William (Trey) Varner of Texarkana, AR died after the 22 foot boat crashed into a 100 foot docked house boat. Both were students at the University of Arkansas. Swetnam also went to Cascia Hall in Tulsa.

Headmaster of Cascia Hall, Roger Carter, tells FOX23 that Swetnam was a wonderful young woman.

"She was as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside," said Carter.

Others in the boat included the driver, John Deselms of Tulsa, along with Taylor Perry of Springdale, Arkansas, Eugene DeVerges of Tulsa, Bryce Banham of Tulsa,Taylor Reynolds of Plano, Texas and Chad Scott of Perry, Oklahoma. Deselms and Perry were transported to Craig General Hospital for treatment.

They say the collision occurred at approximately 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Duck Creek arm of Grand Lake.

According to preliminary reports from the GRDA Police, a boat, carrying multiple passengers collided with a houseboat, docked at Arrowhead Yacht Club.

The two fatalities were passengers in the front of the moving boat. Four other passengers in the boat were transported to Craig General Hospital in Vinita. Additional passengers refused treatment at the scene.

Investigators tell FOX23 News boat crashes like the one that happened Tuesday aren’t extremely common. But with Memorial Day just weeks away and as more people head back out onto the water, they say the likelihood of more boat crashes is increasing.

“It’s a pretty well established fact; if you’re boating you follow the rules.”

That’s what Dick Mckee, who lives near Grand Lake, says. He went on to say the accident happened in a “No Wake Zone,” which means boats should be going even slower than usual. GRDA says the "No Wake Zone" is 150 feet out from where the house boat was docked.

When asked if he was shocked to hear about Tuesday’s accident, he said, “Well, it shouldn’t have happened.”

But it did, and we found out it has happened in the past.

“We’ve had accidents similar to this in the past where maybe a jet ski or another boat has hit a stationary object.”

Justin Alberty is communications director for the Grand River Dam Authority. He says more boats will be making waves on the river in the coming days and weeks, so officials are warning to use caution.

“We do want to stress certainly safe boating,” Alberty began. “It’s early in the boating season, so people are just getting back in the water, getting familiar again with their surroundings, the topography of the lake, so it is a good remember just to be careful.”

Before we’re all the way into summer, Alberty say now would be a good time for boaters to take a moment and refresh themselves with basic boating and water safety practices.

Currently, the investigation into the accident is still underway. Further details will be available as the GRDA Police completes its report.

People took to social media to offer their condolences, offering words of remembrance on Twitter and Facebook.

Swetnam was employed at Riffraff Boutique in Fayetteville, AR. The boutique posted on the work facebook page that they will remember Rachel's "Beautiful smile, infectious cheer, and great sense of humor."

The University of Arkansas released this statement on Wednesday:

"We are shocked and saddened by news that two University of Arkansas students were killed in a boating accident in Oklahoma on Tuesday evening. We are keeping the families and friends of these students in our hearts during this difficult time, and express our deepest condolences. These students will be greatly missed by the U of A community."






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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of KOKI FOX23 - Tulsa

FOX23News - 5/15/2013 4:15 PM
0 Votes
Thanks for the catch guys, I've corrected it.

tlb118 - 5/15/2013 2:39 PM
0 Votes
This is very tragic and I am sorry. But for an update for the article, unless I'm wrong, I don't believe there is a Texarkana Alaska. The abbreviation for Arkansas is AR.

Mayor Maynot - 5/15/2013 2:18 PM
0 Votes
Very tragic incident. Condolences to friends a family of both these youths. Their lives were cut short way too soon.

PGP1102 - 5/15/2013 12:23 PM
1 Vote
I'm wondering if alcohol was involved at all...seeing as the houseboat was parked on the lake. Very sad news to hear...thoughts and prayers to the victim's families. BTW, unless there's a new town in Alaska called Texarkana, it probably would be better to list the young man's home state as "AR", for Arkansas.
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