Boater charged with manslaughter for deaths during solar eclipse

February 23, 2018 GMT

An Idaho Falls man has been charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter for a boating accident during the August eclipse that left two of his passengers dead.

Michael Kingston, 63, had taken Elaine and Edwin Neal Jenkins of Utah boating on Ririe Reservoir on Aug. 21. Bonneville County Dispatch responded at 3:12 p.m. to a report that his boat was spinning out of control on the water with no driver, according to a sheriff’s office probable cause affidavit.

The passengers were recovered from the water after the boat ran out of gas and drifted to a stop. Edwin Jenkins drowned after being ejected from the boat, according to the affidavit. Investigators determined he was unable to swim because of a recent hip replacement.

Kingston and Elaine Jenkins were both hit by the boat and its propeller. Kingston received severe injuries to his right leg from the propeller. Elaine Jenkins had severe injuries caused by the propeller on her hips, chest and neck, and died at the scene. Kingston and Edwin Jenkins were taken to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.

Witnesses told investigators the boat had been traveling at excessive speeds when Kingston attempted to make a sharp turn. Kingston told investigators he thought he was going 40 mph when he and his passengers were thrown from the boat, but that he had been boating at speeds up to 80 mph prior to the crash.

There is no speed limit for boats in Bonneville County. Idaho Code 67-7019 says it’s illegal to pilot boats at speeds that may “cause any damage to or affects the safety of other vessels, docks, shoreline installations or any other property or person.”

None of the passengers were wearing life jackets at the time. Kingston said was not wearing his safety lanyard that attaches to a cut-off switch for the engine when he was thrown from the boat. A sheriff’s office spokesman previously told the Post Register the boat was not equipped with a cut-off switch.

The probable cause affidavit faults Kingston for the couple’s deaths, “due to negligent operation of a boat without due caution and circumspection for his passengers Elaine and Edwin Jenkins.”

Kingston was released Tuesday on a $10,000 bond. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. March 7.

Involuntary manslaughter is punishable with up to 10 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.