116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DAVENPORT — Family members of the couple who died after a boat crash near LeClaire are suing the operators of two boats that witnesses said were racing on the Mississippi River at the time of the collision.
Anita Pinc, 52, died at the scene of the Aug. 16, 2020, crash of their 19-foot Bayliner boat and a 35-foot Triton boat on the river near LeClaire.
Pinc’s fiance, Craig Verbeke, 61, died from injuries several days later. Their dog also was killed.
In May, the Scott County attorney charged James Thiel, 44, of Pleasant Valley, with two felony and two misdemeanor counts of involuntary manslaughter for his role in the crash.
Thiel was assisting a 15-year-old in operating the triple-motor Triton, owned by Thiel Truck Center of Pleasant Valley, the county attorney said.
Thiel is accused of unintentionally contributing to the deaths of Verbeke and Pinc by "aiding in the operation of a boat in a careless, reckless or negligent manner" in an area of high boating traffic.
Verbeke's four children and his parents and Pinc's parents are suing Thiel, the unnamed teen operating the boat and Thiel Truck Center.
Both families also name Ethan Mahler, of LeClaire, as the operator of a third boat, who reportedly was racing with Thiel's boat.
The lawsuits, which do not specify the damages sought, accuse Thiel, the teen and Mahler of negligence and Thiel Truck Center of vicarious liability as owner of the boat
The suits contain dozens of documents that were part of the crash investigation by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which the DNR has declined to release.
Among the details provided by witness is that Thiel appeared to have been thrown upon impact from his boat into the boat operated by Verbeke. They said Thiel’s clothes were dry, and he appeared to be confused about what had happened.
Several witnesses estimated the speed of Thiel and Mahler's boats at 60 mph at the time of the crash, and at least one witness said the boats nearly collided with each other before encountering Verbeke's vessel near the LeClaire shoreline.
The Thiel boat had a maximum capacity of 12 passengers, with 13 were on board that day, including nine children.
One witness told DNR investigators she could smell alcohol on James Thiel's breath from at least 6 feet away. He refused a blood-alcohol test, the reports show.
Verbeke's blood showed a blood alcohol content of 0.102, which is over the 0.08 legal standard for operating a motor vehicle.
At least one DNR officer's report listed the causes of the crash as carelessness, alcohol, excessive speed, operator inexperience, improper lookout and failure to yield.
While Thiel's boat is indicated in reports as traveling at "high speed," Verbeke's vessel was at "cruising" speed.
A couple was on the river told investigators they saw the boats operated by Thiel and Mahler "acting crazy," crossing each other's paths and running too close to shore.
The boats were "either racing each other or upset with each other" and, at one point, "almost T-boned each other." As the vessels "flew by," Mahler's boat nearly crashed into the Twilight riverboat, which was moored nearby, they said.
A passenger on another boat said Mahler passed their boat, throwing a wake that appeared to result in Verbeke losing "some control" of his vessel.