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Death on Lake Shelby ruled drowning

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Investigators also now say the boat was over weight limit

By Lisa King

The death of a woman in Lake Shelby on May 12 has been declared a drowning, officials said Thursday.

“I received the [autopsy] report back from the state medical examiner’s office in Louisville earlier this week, and the cause of death has been ruled a drowning,” Shelby County Chief Deputy Coroner Jeff Ivers said.

The death of Amanda Frank, 34, of Louisville had been in question because she had had a host of health problems that could have contributed to her death on that Mother’s Day weekend, Ivers had said earlier.

Frank and her son, Patrick, 12, and her friend, Shane Jump, all of Louisville, had been fishing near where Lake Shelby takes its northern bend toward the bridge at Freedom’s Way when their 15-foot 1982 Skeeter fiberglass boat began to fill up with water.

An investigation was launched by the department of Fish and Wildlife, because all deaths on waterways must be investigated, officials said, in the same manner that accidents on roadways must be done when a death occurs.

Fish and Wildlife officials had said in mid-May that the investigation had not yielded any conclusions that the accident was caused by neglect on the part of Jump, the boat’s operator. They had been focusing on whether the boat was over its weight capacity, why the three people in the boat were not wearing their life jackets and why the boat sank.

Although the weight had not been considered an issue, but Scott Herndon, public information officer for Fish and Wildlife, said Thursday that investigators now have determined that it was.

 “It’s been determined that the boat was overloaded on weight,” he said. “It has also been determined that there were several equipment malfunctions.

“There’s a rubber grommet at the back of the boat where the water poured in. And when he [Jump] tried to start the engine, he had a rope hanging off the front of it that got tangled in the prop.

“If that hadn’t happened, he probably would have got to the bank before it ever sank. It was just a bad set of circumstances compiled all at one time that caused a bad situation.”

When the boat began to take on water, even though none of the three could swim adequately or not at all, they jumped into the water without putting on their life jackets, which they had in the boat with them.

Fish and Wildlife Sgt. Doug Detherage said that action didn’t make much sense and that investigators think the boaters just panicked.

“I think they were in a panic mode, and they just bailed out without taking the time to put them on,” Detherage said. “We’re not sure.”

Although some nearby boaters were able to get Frank into their boat and resuscitation was performed, she was not revived and was pronounced dead at Jewish Hospital Shelbyville.

Herndon said the next step in an investigation of this type is to determine whether or not charges should be filed as a result of the death.

“We haven’t gotten to that point yet; we’re still finalizing things and talking to our supervisors in Frankfort about the course we want to take from here,” he said. “That [filing charges] has been discussed, but we’re not positive about that yet.

“Before we present it to the grand jury, we have to talk to the commonwealth attorney, Laura Donnell, because after she sees our evidence, she will determine whether she wants to present it or not. It’s really her call; she would have to think it’s a case she thinks would be worth presenting to the grand jury.”

Ivers said if that happens, he may have to submit the coroner’s findings as part of the evidence in the case.

“That’s just routine procedure,” he said. “We would just testify on our findings from the coroner’s department. But other than that, our case is going to be closed.”

Herndon said he doesn’t expect the investigation to be wrapped up for a while.

“I would say within a month or so,” he said. “We don’t like to rush these things.”