Friday, August 28, 2009

Rehberg stable after serious boat crash on Flathead Lake

For those of you who follow The Lowdown closer than the Tribune Web site, here's the latest report on Rep. Denny Rehberg's late-night boat crash, including some links.

Congressman Denny Rehberg and state Senate Majority Whip Greg Barkus of Kalispell are in stable condition at Kalispell Regional Medical after sustaining injuries in a late-night boating crash on Flathead Lake Thursday.

According to Fish, Wildlife and Parks regional director Jim Satterfield, Rehberg, Barkus, and three adults were injured when the 22-foot motorboat they were riding in crashed on the rocks on the shore near Wayfarers State Park on the north east end of Flathead Lake.

According to a Washington Post report, Barkus’ wife, Kathy, and Rehberg’s state director, Dustin Frost, were among those injured in the crash. The identity of the fifth passenger, also a Rehberg staffer, has not been released.

The crash happened sometime after 10 p.m. Campers who were near the scene heard the crash and called 911, Satterfield said. The boat, a fiberglass hulled inboard motorboat, was completely out of the water and resting at a steep angle among cliffs and rocks on shore.

Responders from the Big Fork Fire Department were first on the scene, Satterfield said. Three people were flown to the hospital by helicopter, however department officials didn’t know if Rehberg was among those who were transported by air. The others were taken to the hospital via ambulance. All five are in stable condition.

Satterfield said FWP boating accident experts are investigating the incident along with the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office and the Montana Highway Patrol.

“We’ll be looking at how fast the boat was going, who was driving, whether alcohol or drugs were involved, whether they have the proper number of life jackets on the boat. Those are the things we look at when we have a routine boating accident like this,” Satterfield said.

Satterfield said it could be several days before more information on the accident is released.

The park remains closed while officials investigate the scene.

Jed Link, Rehberg’s press secretary, issued the following statement around noon Friday:

“Last night Congressman Rehberg and two members of his staff were passengers in a boat that was involved in an accident on Flathead Lake near Bigfork. Denny is in stable condition and is doing well. His thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved. We will continue to provide information as it becomes available.”

State Sen. Gary Perry, a good friend of Barkus, said he had just heard about the crash and was getting ready to go to the hospital. Perry, from Manhattan, said he knew little about Barkus' condition.

“It's a tragic accident,” Perry said. “We're praying for him.”

Rehberg has conducted 16 listening sessions around Montana during the congressional break and was scheduled to be in Cut Bank and Shelby today. Both of those sessions have been canceled. On Friday, Rehberg announced seven more sessions for next Tuesday through Thursday. Rehberg was in Great Falls on Tuesday along with Sen. Jon Tester for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Benefis Health System's new $85 million Patient Tower.

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