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Three dead, one missing after boat flips

Boy, 14, swam to shore; father in critical condition

FALL RIVER — A late-night trip on Mount Hope Bay ended in disaster for members of a Fall River family yesterday, when their small, overcrowded powerboat flipped over, leaving three people dead, one person missing, and another hospitalized in critical condition, police said.

The youngest person on the boat, 14-year-old Christopher Duarte, swam to shore in choppy, 50-degree water after the 1 a.m. accident and struggled up an embankment to reach a nearby house in Tiverton, R.I., to call for help.

Rescuers who responded to the call pulled the boy’s father, Allen Duarte, 35, from the water alive. He remained in critical condition yesterday at Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River.

‘‘The quick response probably saved this guy,’’ Tiverton Police Chief Thomas Blakey said of the teenager’s actions.

The boy’s mother, Edwina Duarte, 34, died, Blakey said. Two other people also died, both from Fall River: James Duarte, 23, a cousin of Christopher Duarte, and Richard Doehler, 39, who lived with Christopher’s aunt. The aunt, Kelleigh Ouellette, 24, was still missing yesterday. Rescuers called off the search for her last night. The family traveled by boat to visit a relative in the Little Neck area in Swansea on Friday, and motored back up the river after dark, heading for a launch area in Fall River, north of Braga Bridge, according to officials.

After the boat capsized near the Fall River line, Christopher Duarte, who was wearing a life jacket, struggled to shore, and climbed a steep, briar-covered hill, reaching the Summerfield Drive home in Tiverton of David and Karen Rose shortly after 1 a.m.

Karen Rose, who had fallen asleep on the family room couch, said she heard cries for help from the front porch, and opened the front door to find the panicked 14-year-old soaked and shivering. He told her there had been an accident and his family's boat had overturned.

The couple wrapped the boy, who was wearing a T-shirt and shorts, in blankets and winter coats, and called 911. They said Duarte was very concerned about his mother, who wasn't wearing a life jacket, and his aunt, who he believed had grasped a bumper of the boat. He believed everyone else in the boat had life jackets on.

Duarte told the Roses he had been in the water for almost an hour. Officials could not pinpoint exactly where the boat capsized, however, and doubted he could have survived in the river that long.

He told the Roses he nearly gave up, but was inspired by thoughts of his grandfather, who had apparently been the lone survivor of a fishing boat accident years ago. He said his grandfather also swam to shore against the odds.

"He said, `What my grandfather told me kept me going. Never give up,' " said David Rose. "He said, `All the way to the beach.' That's what I kept thinking. Don't give up. I got to keep swimming and keep swimming.' "

The Coast Guard, Environmental Police, Tiverton Police and Fire departments, and the Portsmouth, R.I., Fire Department all responded to the accident, spending hours searching the shoreline and waters of Sakonnet Bay and Mount Hope Bay by foot, boat, and helicopter, Blakey said.

Blakey said officials are investigating everything from the effects of the weather to the possibility of mechanical or human error. The temperature dropped about 30 degrees Friday night, and shifting winds with gusts up to 30 miles per hour caused rough, choppy seas with waves as high as 3 feet, local fishermen said. The current was also strong in the vicinity of the accident, somewhere near the northern end of Mount Hope Bay by a group of oil tanks, the Inland Fuel terminals.

Portsmouth Fire Department personnel found two men in the Sakonnet River, south of Mount Hope Bay. Allen Duarte, who was moaning but unable to communicate, was found a mile south of where his son swam to shore, indicating the strength of the current. James Duarte was found dead in the water near Allen.

Doehler's body was discovered after dawn along the shore near the Seaconnet Sportmans Club, about 2 1/2 miles from where the boat overturned, Portsmouth fire officials said.

For the victims to drift where they did, the accident probably took place within 1,000 yards of shore, Lieutenant Phil Simmons of the fire department said.

Several experienced boaters interviewed near the river yesterday said the large number of people on the 17-foot boat equipped with an 85-horsepower outboard motor -- five adults and one teenager -- also may have been a factor in the accident.

The open-topped, fiberglass Cutter craft was 42 years old; several boaters said it should have carried two or three adults. The boat, which observers said appeared to be undamaged, was being examined for leaks yesterday.

"It appears that it's a bad situation and things all just came at the wrong time," Blakey said. "Weather. Size of the boat. It's a bad situation. Tragic."

It was the first day this year that his family had taken the boat on the river, according to Christopher Duarte's statements.

Edwina Duarte's mother, Bernadette Leavitt, described her daughter yesterday as a stay-at-home mom who "doted over" Christopher, her only child.

Edwina, who went by the nickname Lynn, met Allen Duarte when they were teenagers, and married him in 1987, she said. Edwina wore her high school graduation dress, which was white with red hearts, to the wedding, and Allen and his groomsmen wore white suits and red ties to match, recalled Leavitt.

"She was my best friend, my only daughter," the grieving mother said, standing at the door of her daughter's third-floor apartment.

Allen Duarte is an avid outdoorsman who managed a Fall River gas station, Leavitt said. "He's like a son to me," she said. Leavitt, who traveled to Fall River from her home in Maine yesterday to care for her grandson, said it was uncertain if Allen Duarte would live.

"We're just praying," she said. "That's all we can do."

Friends of Richard Doehler, who was known as Rick, described him yesterday as "an awesome guy" and a skilled mechanic who ran his own repair shop, Rick's Auto Truck and RV Repair, on Rodman Street in Fall River. He had a young son, known as "Little Ricky," and lived on Winter Street with Ouellette, who had two young children in elementary school, according to friends.

"I don't know what the heck's going to happen to all those kids," said Brandy Anctil, a friend of Doehler's. She said the easygoing mechanic let her boyfriend use the auto shop to fix his own car, and sometimes helped the younger man out with repairs.

Leavitt said Christopher Duarte was suffering from hypothermia when she arrived at the hospital yesterday morning, but after getting just an hour of sleep, the 14-year-old agreed to go back on the water with the Coast Guard to help reconstruct the accident, despite his grandmother's objections.

"I don't think anything has hit him yet," she said.

Globe Correspondent Connie Paige contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was also used. 

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