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Trooper at fault in fatal boat crash

Heather McGregor

Colorado State Patrol Captain Fred Bitterman was under the influence of alcohol July 17 when he slammed his jet ski into the side of a motorboat at Lake Powell, according to a National Park Service investigation.

Bitterman, 58, of Glenwood Springs, had been in charge of troopers serving Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties since 1988.

He died at 12:30 a.m. the morning after the accident while being flown to a hospital in Flagstaff.

Motorboat pilot Peter Smith was not at fault in the fatal accident, the investigation concluded.

Friends said Bitterman lived for his trips to Lake Powell.

Bitterman and his wife, Kathy, rented a slip at the Wahweap Marina for their 31-foot boat, “Cop ‘N Attitude,” from July 15 to 20. On July 17, Kathy’s brother and his wife, Kevin and Kathy Thompson of Page, Ariz., joined the Bittermans.

They left Wahweap about 3:30 p.m. and motored seven miles out to Warm Creek Bay, with Kathy Bitterman following the big boat on her brother’s jet ski.

Bitterman didn’t eat after having a late breakfast that day, and his wife later reported that he drank two beers after they arrived at Warm Creek Bay. Kevin Thompson also told investigators that Bitterman drank part of a Bloody Mary.

Tests taken 90 minutes after the accident revealed that Bitterman had a blood-alcohol content of 0.12 percent, above the legal limit for boat operators in Utah.

Meanwhile, Peter Smith and several of his relatives met at Lake Powell on July 15 for a family reunion. They moved their camp to Romano Cove on the morning of the 17th, but it was out of sight from the beach the Bittermans and Thompsons were using.

At about 7:20 p.m., Fred Bitterman took a turn on the jet ski and was riding for about 20 minutes before the accident occurred.

Peter Smith said he spotted the jet ski off to his right making figure 8s and began to steer away.

From the beach, Kevin Thompson saw Bitterman abruptly quit looping and make a beeline for the motorboat. Smith saw the jet-ski rider change direction as well and thought the rider was trying to jump his boat’s wake.

But Bitterman wasn’t watching the motorboat. Passengers on the boat and witnesses on shore agreed that he was looking down, bending over, possibly reaching down to get or adjust something, when the collision occurred.

Bitterman struck the right side of the motorboat, and Bitterman was first thrown against the jet ski’s handlebars and then against the gunwale and awning of the motorboat.

He fell back into the water, and two passengers on the motorboat, Sean Price and Caroline Smith, jumped in immediately to rescue him.

Following an intense investigation, which involved interviewing everyone present and reconstructing the accident by positioning the two vessels with a forklift, authorities concluded that Bitterman was at fault in the accident.

David Harris, an investigator for Utah State Parks, and David Sandbakken, a special agent for the National Park Service at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, concluded that Peter Smith maintained his distance from the jet ski.

They also concluded that Smith didn’t violate the “vessel crossing” rule, since the jet ski had no obvious speed or course of direction during or after the figure 8 maneuvers.


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