INDIAN SHORES – A boating accident just after midnight on Sunday resulted in the death of a 16-year-old girl.
The crash involved seven juvenile boaters and one, 16-year-old Gavin Johnston of Largo, has been arrested.
According to Pinellas County Sheriff's Office reports, the accident occurred at approximately 12:30 a.m. at marker 28 in the Intercoastal Waterway in Indian Shores, near the intersection of Whitehurst Avenue and Gulf Boulevard.
Responding deputies learned that seven juveniles were on board a 2014 Yellowfin Center Console boat and one female passenger, Rachel Herring, was missing.
Deputies used a phone app to locate Herring floating in the water approximately a half mile south of the crash site. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
The investigation determined Johnston and five other teens boarded the boat at Johnston's residence Saturday night at approximately 7:30 p.m. The boat stopped at a boat ramp to pick up a friend who brought alcohol. They continued to a party in the Treasure Island area. Witnesses told deputies the seven teens arrived to the party at about 9 p.m.
The Sheriff's Office report states that about 25-40 juveniles were at the party, where alcohol was consumed and marijuana was smoked. In the upstairs of that same residence was a party attended by adults.
The seven teens involved in the accident left the party at about 12:15 a.m., deputies reported, traveling northbound in the Intercoastal Waterway. Johnston brought the vessel on a plane and was traveling at a high rate of speed, exceeding the no-wake requirement for that area. The vessel struck a metal mile marker, causing all seven passengers to be ejected from the boat into the water.
As of Sunday afternoon, there is no indication that Johnston was under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. Investigators with the Major Accident Investigation Team conducted Field Sobriety Tests and Johnston did not show indicators of impairment. Johnston was arrested and taken to the Pinellas Juvenile Assessment Center charged with vessel homicide.
No one on the boat was wearing a life jacket at the time of the crash and the medical examiner is working to determine the exact cause of death.