Senator, friend hurt in boating mishap

State Sen. Robert Venables and his friend Ralph Gootee are both back home in Laurel after a boating accident that sent them to Shock Trauma in Baltimore. Venables suffered a broken eye socket and bruised kidney and Gootee is recovering from a severe cut on his head and a broken shoulder. Both men were knocked unconscious in the accident, which occurred after 10 o'clock Friday morning in the Little Choptank River, where the men were fishing. Neither of them fell into the water. Neither was wearing a life jacket. Venables, 76, was piloting the 16-foot aluminum hull flat-bottomed boat when it struck a buoy near Ragged Point, about 10 miles west of Cambridge, Md. When he regained consciousness, he said, both he and Gootee, also 76, were lying in the bottom of the boat. Two dogs that belong to Venables and that had been with the men were in the water, about 50 yards from the boat. "I don't know how I didn't see that buoy," said Venables. Gootee was sitting on a cooler in front of him, he said, and in front of Gootee was Cutter, a standard poodle. Charlie, a miniature poodle, was sitting in Venables' lap. "I was piloting the boat, looking to the left and to the right in front of Ralph and Cutter," Venables said. "I have always done that and could always see what was in front. I just missed it, I guess." Venables said that the boat was traveling at about 15 knots when it struck the buoy. The force of the impact knocked the engine into neutral, he said, so that the boat didn't continue moving. Police with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources responded to the scene at 10:52 a.m. In a press release, the police said that alcohol was not suspected as a factor in the accident. After Venables recovered consciousness, he steered the boat to the two dogs and picked them up. He then went to shore and helped Gootee, who by that time was semi-conscious, out of the boat. Gootee was bleeding from a large cut in his forehead. "When I saw all that blood, I thought, 'I've got to get him to a hospital,'" Venables said. Another man on shore called for emergency help.

Venables, who put his two dogs in his truck, and Gootee were transported to Shock Trauma by helicopter. "I just remember a little bit of that ride," said Gootee. "It was so noisy and I asked, 'What are we riding in?' I knew that we had gotten there by car, and I couldn't figure it out." Gootee was admitted to the hospital. He was released Sunday and on Monday afternoon, he said that despite a painful shoulder, he was doing well. "I'm happy to be home," he said. "I guess I should be happy to be anyplace and know that I am pretty much OK and that my good friend [Bob Venables] is OK." Venables was released from Shock Trauma Friday at around 10 p.m., after he was able to walk around a room by himself. On Monday afternoon, he, Cutter and Charlie were recovering at home. He commented on how lucky he and Gootee were that the accident didn't have worse consequences. The engine, knocked into neutral, didn't keep the boat going forward. The boat did not hit the buoy head-on, he said, which would have been even a bigger jolt. And if either unconscious man had gone overboard, he said, that man could have drowned. Gootee said that he is looking forward to returning to the Little Choptank to fish. "I don't know if I've gotten fishing out of my system or not," said Venables. "I've been doing it since I was 5 or 6. But I feel that as long as I'm in good health, I will be back out there again." Venables likes to fish in the Ragged Point area in October and November, he said, because large fish come to the area to feed. In December, he likes to fish near the Bay Bridge Tunnel and the Indian River Inlet. He releases all the fish he catches and uses hooks without barbs so the fish aren't hurt. "I like to fish," he said. "I have since I was a kid. And it seems that as I get older, and I have a lot of things on my mind, fishing is the only thing that when I'm doing it, I'm not thinking about something else."

News tips wanted
Call us with ideas for news and features. We're always looking for good stories to share with readers. Call Bryant Richardson at 629-9788.