A Charlotte County architect was arrested May 31 after being involved in a fatal Charlotte Harbor boat crash in February.
Robert Barnhart, 75, observed the man also involved in the crash overboard, waving for help, and “never stopped or slowed to assist,” the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission stated in an arrest report.
The two vessel collision occurred in Charlotte Harbor near the mouth of Jug Creek in Lee County on Feb. 28.
Richard Niehaus was driving his 18-foot Sea Squirt boat northeast toward Bokeelia at an unknown speed, according to the arrest report.
Meanwhile, Barnhart was driving his 31-foot Rampage Sport fisherman boat northeast towards the Peace River at approximately 25 knots, or approximately 29 miles per hour.
The bow of Niehaus’ boat struck the middle of Barnhart’s boat. The stem of Niehaus’ boat twisted to the side, eventually tipping into the wake Barnhart’s boat left behind. The boat then rolled, causing Niehaus to fall into the water, waving for help.
Barnhart saw Niehaus in the water, waving for help, and assumed he was trying to jump the wake of his boat.
“I thought, you idiot, that is what you deserve for doing that,” Barnhart said in a sworn statement. “When he came up and waved, I thought, ‘Well, that’s what you get — you know, you get wet and your boat took off without you.’”
Barnhart never stopped to assist Niehaus.
Fourteen minutes after the collision, a “Good Samaritan” vessel saw Niehaus floating face-down in the water. The passengers of the boat pulled Niehaus out of the water, called 911 and began performing CPR.
Niehaus was pronounced deceased by Fire/EMS at the Four Winds Marina.
His boat continued to travel in circles until it was finally stopped more than an hour after the collision by FWC officers.
Barnhart contacted an FWC officer an hour after the collision saying he might have been involved in an accident.
Barnhart was arrested for leaving the scene of an accident without giving aid and violation of a navigation rule resulting in an accident.