The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

July 31, 2013

Services set for man killed Tuesday on Tennessee River

By Kim West

— Services are set for Saturday for the Athens man killed Tuesday evening in Decatur after the boat that he was riding in struck a rising power line during a bass fishing tournament on the Tennessee River.

Memorial services for Anthony J. Szozda will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at Limestone Chapel Funeral Home. He is survived by one son, three daughters, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Morgan County Coroner Jeff Chunn said Tuesday he pronounced Szozda, 65, dead at 6:10 p.m. from trauma to the neck and head. Chunn said emergency officials received the initial report of an accident on the river just north of the Nucor Steel dock at 5:34 p.m.

The coroner said the victim was brought ashore to Ingalls Harbor. The Alabama Marine Police estimated the fishing boat speed at 50 to 70 miles per hour at the time of the accident, and the boat struck a low-hanging Tennessee Valley Authority power line during the fishing tournament held weekly in Morgan County.

Szozda, an avid fisherman known as “Ski Daddy,” struck the line as he was riding in the lead boat of a three-boat group participating in the tournament.

Boat owner Gary Thacker of Athens, who had his hat knocked off by the rising line, piloted the Ranger bass boat and was not injured.

“The victim sustained severe head and neck injuries as a result of coming into contact with the cable,” Chunn said.

The Coast Guard closed a 1-mile stretch of the river between mile markers 297 and 298 to all traffic shortly after 2:40 p.m. when TVA officials immediately reported a fallen line, said TVA spokeswoman Gail Rymer on Wednesday. The Associated Press reported the boat carrying Szozda did not have the type of radio that could receive warning notifications about the closure.

Rymer said TVA began work about two weeks ago to upgrade a transmission line that connects across a 1.5-mile portion of the river to a grid for Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Limestone County. She said TVA notified the Alabama Marine Police and the Coast Guard about the line upgrade, and she added that the line was not live. TVA had two boats patrolling the area at the time of the accident but there were no warning signs or lights posted to warn of a line being lifted out of the water.

“At the time the line fell in the water, the Coast Guard was notified and then they started broadcasting over the public radio regarding the incident, and they had closed the river the mile between 297 and 298 to all traffic,” Rymer said. “In the process of lifting the transmission line up, the line was being strung across the river. A pulley or another wire was being used to pull the transmission line across the river, and that was the line that broke.

“The line dropped into the water at about 2:30 p.m., and at the time we were lifting the line out of the water at about 5:30 p.m., the boat ran into the line.”

The Bass Anglers Invitational Trail listed Szozda, a native of New York and a retired Army master sergeant, as placing eighth in a 2011 tournament after reeling in 23.33 pounds of fish and $650 in prize money with Thacker. The Walmart Bass Fishing League also listed Szozda as a fishing tournament participant.

Chunn said the last boating fatality on the river in Decatur happened two years ago involving a Jet-Ski rider. The accident that killed Szozda is under investigation by the Alabama Marine Police.

Rymer said Wednesday afternoon the area where the accident occurred would remain closed to all traffic until “we get the line to the level the Coast Guard considers (suitable for) clearance to open it back up, and we’re working diligently to make that happen soon.”

Rob Manning, executive vice president and chief energy delivery officer for TVA, issued a public statement early Wednesday in response to the accident.

“Tuesday’s accident was an unusual and unfortunate occurrence. Our thoughts go out to the family of the boater who was killed,” Manning said. “We are taking this very seriously and are working closely with the authorities to understand the facts around this event.

“TVA exercises all appropriate caution when we do our work at all times. The safety of the public, our employees and our partners is our top priority.”