Katlyn Oliver, 4, killed by houseboat propeller on Lake Belton in Texas
On Monday 26 June KWTX reports Katlyn and her father were swimming back to shore after taking a ride in another boat. Katlyn was excited and anxious to tell others about her first boat ride. They were in about waist deep water in the area behind the houseboat.
Katlyn, wearing a life jacket, become entangled in a houseboat propeller as it was backing up. Her father, Patrick Oliver tried to rescue her. Both his legs were amputated.
Authorities were called for help at Temple Lake Park at 6:47pm Friday evening 23 June, 2017.
Katlyn and her father were taken to Baylor Scott and White Hospital in Temple Texas. She died at 7:45 pm, about an hour after being struck by the propeller.
Update – Katlyn’s father Patrick Oliver died Thursday morning 6 July, 2017 from his injuries.
See our separate post on his death.
Early reports say Katlyn Oliver received multiple lacerations all over her body. An autopsy has been ordered by the Justice of the Peace, David Barfield, who also pronounced her dead.
The autopsy results showed whe died of numerous wounds and drowning per KWTX Monday 26 June.
Jason Stuart Bernal, a man associated with the houseboat, is being held at Bell County Jail on a third degree felony hold while authorities sort out any potential charges from this accident.
On Sunday 25 June, per multiple news outlets authorities said Mr. Bernal had been charged with criminal negligent homicide and bail had been set at $150,000.
Per a 26 June KWTX report, Mr. Bernal told authorities per an affidavit “from the captains position in the boat, he could not see behind him because the boat is three stories tall.” A witness told officers “the boat was in full throttle when backing up.” One witness that was with the father and daughter was shouting that people were behind the houseboat when it began to backup.Per KWTX, first responders included Morgan’s Point Resort Dive Team and Police Department, Temple Fire Department, the Core of Engineer, and Texas Parks and Wildlife assisted. Temple Police Department Special Investigation’s Squad is investigating the accident.
Temple Lake Park was closed for the investigation and will be reopened at some future time.
A GoFundMe account has been setup to fund Katlyn Oliver’s funeral and some of her father’s medical expenses.
KCENTV reports Crotty Funeral Home in Belton has volunteered to cover the full funeral expenses. We extend our sincere thanks to Crotty Funeral Home for this very generous gesture and encourage others to do the same.
The houseboat is said to be a 50 foot Gibson houseboat registered to someone who lives in Killeen Texas.
Gibson houseboats of this size tend to be powered by twin inboards with V drives and go faster than typical rental houseboats.
A later KCENTV image below shows investigators under the houseboat. The image indicates it is likely a twin inboard powered boat.
Katlyn’s father remains in the hospital and was to undergo another operation on Sunday 26 June. Doctors are striving to try to retain enough of his legs for prosthetics to be an option in the future.
The list of first responders included a dive team. That tends to indicate someone was entrapped on the propeller below the surface of the water or they were searching for missing limbs.
Lake Belton is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake.
Temple Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit is investigating the accident.
Back in 2010 we published an extensive report on a houseboat propeller safety regulation proposed and rejected by the Coast Guard.
Preventing Houseboat Backover Propeller Accidents
We are used to seeing backover accidents involving slow moving rental houseboats. In those applications a cage type propeller guard is often put forth as a means by which the accident could have been prevented.
Propeller guards are seen by some as causing minimal issues on houseboats with maximum speeds of 10 mph or less in areas without weeds. If the Gibson houseboat in the photo printed by KTEM is the boat involved in the accident, it likely has a top speed in excess of ten miles per hour.
Backover propeller accident mitigation devices, methods, designs, and training for faster houseboats include:
- Rear view cameras with a display at the helm
- Swim ladder switches – if the swim ladder was lowered for swimmers the engine cannot be restarted til the swim ladder is in its raised position
- Backup alarms that sound for a few seconds before the vessel moves in reverse. Backup alarms can be made to adjust their loudness based on surrounding sound levels at that moment.
- Flapper / Flip up type propeller guard – designed to provide protection from the rear, it automatically swings up due to water flow when underway in forward gear
- Spotter switch at the stern – “doorbell” switch near stern must be momentarily depressed by a spotter before boat can be reversed from shore
- Captain’s Mate – device by MariTech Industries that enforces proper launch technique for larger vessels
- Use of designated spotters – someone is always at the stern when the vessel is reversed. Preferably the same person is always at the stern when the vessel is reversed for a given voyage.
- Designated operator – no one except those specifically trained to operate the houseboat are allowed to operate the boat
- Remove the keys from the ignition and place the above the reach of children when the houseboat is not underway
- Count Off / Head Count before launching – making sure everyone is onboard or accounted for
- Keeping the music sound level down when backing the vessel
- Minimizing the use of alcohol by all on board
- Securely tying the houseboat to shore when beached to prevent the houseboat from drifting into rocks or onto the shore – sometimes a beached houseboat is swinging/drifting toward a rock so someone tries to straighten the houseboat before they check to see if anyone is in the water behind the vessel
- Do no allow jumping from the stern of the upper deck
- Avoid giant raftups (many houseboats tied together with lots of people in the water behind the houseboats)
- Design the vessel with the stern ladder as far from the propeller as possible
- When the ladder is “down” it is deep enough in the water for swimmers to easily board the boat – swimmers do not swing their feet into the propeller while trying to board via a shallow ladder or fall onto the drive while boarding the boat
- Make sure the vessel has the proper propeller warnings at the helm and at the stern
- Boater safety training
- Rental houseboat safety training
- Mandatory boater safety training is required in some states
- Public Service Announcements like the “Don’t Wreck Your Summer” Coast Guard PSA that was banned by the boating industry