Writer / Rachel Quade
On a peaceful Wednesday evening last July, Bill and Sherry Lambert headed out on Geist Reservoir for what was supposed to be a relaxing evening cruise. It had always been one of their favorite pastimes. An hour later, they were left with a ski boat that was in shambles, hundreds of cuts and lacerations over their bodies and an experience that still brings back horrifying images in their minds.
Around 8 p.m., these Cambridge residents were headed out of the large Cambridge cove back to their boat dock. They saw a boat racing towards the entrance of the cove. Instead of slowing down as the boat entered the idle zone, it kept coming towards the Lamberts’ boat at a high speed.
“There was no time to react,” Sherry said. The Lamberts were sitting ducks with nothing that could be done to prevent the horrible accident.
The speeding boat hit the side of the Lamberts’ boat so hard that it went over the top of their Bayliner ski boat. The careening boat barely missed Sherri’s head as she was sitting next to her husband. At least four of the speeding boat’s eleven passengers were thrown into the shallow water. While some of the boat’s passengers swam to shore, others decided to try to run from the scene.
Meanwhile, the Lamberts, who had just gone through a traumatic experience that would leave most people in a daze, had to think very quickly. Their boat had sustained much damage, and they were afraid that it might sink. They called their neighbors, Jack and Debbie Kowal, to come rescue them. The Kowals arrived quickly and found kids fleeing the area, damaged boats and a chaotic situation to say the least.
A pontoon boat took the Lamberts back to the marina where an ambulance took Sherri to the Emergency Room. Her arm was dripping with blood, and she was trying to spit glass chunks out of her mouth from the accident. Bill also sustained cuts and bruises from the crash.
The accident that occurred that night is not difficult to believe for any person who spends much time on Geist. Sadly, the Lamberts’ accident wasn’t even the worst accident that occurred last summer. A young, well-liked Geist resident drowned last Labor Day weekend when out on the cove with friends. He is not the first person to lose his life on Geist.
The question is: how can such tragedies be avoided? The Fishers Police Department is one of the agencies which has jurisdiction over the lake. The chief and assistant chief of police, Mitch Thompson and Ed Gebhart, have been working very diligently with the Department of Natural Resources and the community to improve safety on Geist.
“Our main goal is the preservation of life and to make sure everybody gets home safely after a day of boating,” said Ed Gebhart.
From the time Fishers began sharing responsibility for Geist about five years ago, they initiated meetings with neighbors, worked with the media to encourage responsible boating and started patrolling the reservoir more frequently. Anyone who lives on the water or boats on Geist will report that the noise level and overall party atmosphere has decreased over the last five years.
Still, boaters need to take responsibility for themselves. On the Indiana DNR website, “The Handbook of Indiana Boating Laws and Responsibilities” can be ordered for a nominal amount. A few of the tips in this book can be found in the highlighted box below.
There are plenty of other common sense measures to consider while boating. For instance, think twice before you pull children on a tube through a congested area or a no wake zone. When there is a string of boats on the cove, a boat might not see the rope that is being pulled as they are waiting for your boat to drive past other boats. Also, those floating islands that look like so much fun can be death traps. It is easy to see how a child or someone who has been drinking could become disoriented in the water and get trapped under one of those large floatation devices. Another point to remember, ALWAYS have a designated driver while spending a day out on the water.
Finally, do not think that your teenage driver who appears to be a capable driver with mom and dad in the boat is the same capable driver with a boat full of friends, loud music and the possibility of alcohol in their system. Think long and hard before sending your child out with a boat full of friends for the day.
Geist is a great community with a fantastic body of water to enjoy! Stay responsible and respectful while out on the water this summer. You might be saving a life.