Michigan rowing team hit by speedboat; no major injuries

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
The Michigan rowing team was back on the water Thursday after Wednesday's  near-miss.

Practicing on Belleville Lake on Wednesday in preparation for the NCAA championships, the Michigan women's rowing team was involved in a hit-and-run accident with a speedboat that left the UM boat in pieces and forced nine team members to swim to shore.

There were no significant injuries; one player suffered a minor, undisclosed injury.

Authorities are stunned -- and grateful -- it wasn't a tragedy.

"I'm surprised that given the circumstances and the situation that we didn't have something more serious in nature," said Jason Wright, deputy director of the Belleville Township Police Department. "We are very fortunate we didn't lose a student out there."

The accident occurred at approximately 5:17 p.m. Wednesday, in a narrow portion of the lake that on one side is surrounded by a cemetery and on the other side has a kayak launch and a restaurant.

A yellow speedboat crashed into the row boat, sending the nine Michigan rowers into the water. It's not clear if the rowers jumped prior to the collision or were tossed into the water by impact, Wright said.

The nine rowers swam about 75 yards to the shore of the kayak launch, and the driver of the speedboat fled, Wright said.

Sophomores big part of UM softball’s future, present

Multiple agencies, including fire, EMS, police and marine units arrived quickly on the scene, and checked multiple boat launches, but the speedboat was gone. A short while later, police pulled over a car pulling a yellow speedboat in the area of Rawsonville Road and West Huron River Drive. The driver of the boat was arrested, charged with fleeing the scene of an accident, a misdemeanor, and the boat was impounded, Wright said.

The driver of the boat, a 52-year-old male, was issued an appearance ticket for the 34th District Court and released. A court date hasn't been set. Because the driver hasn't yet been arraigned, police aren't yet releasing his name.

Wright said alcohol is not believed to be a factor.

"Just irresponsibility," Wright said.

The Detroit News reached out to Michigan's rowing team for comment from the coach and players, but was told that individuals didn't want to comment, and instead wanted to keep its focus on its 10th consecutive appearance in the NCAA championships.

Michigan, ranked No. 4 in the nation, will compete in the three-day NCAAs on Mercer Lake in West Windsor, N.J., starting Friday, May 26.

This is the 18th time in 21 seasons as a varsity program that Michigan has made the NCAA championships.

The team issued a statement through spokesman Kurt Svoboda.

"We are happy to report that none of our students were injured," the statement said. "While facts are still being gathered by police, the team is back on the water today (Thursday), training for next week's NCAA championships.”