WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — A high-powered speedboat crashed into a piling at Johnnie Mercer’s Pier in Wrightsville Beach yesterday, demolishing part of the concrete fishing structure and disintegrating the boat. Miraculously, the pilot of the boat was not injured, said police.
The white and red Donzi 33ZX, valued at nearly $250,000, was about 50 yards offshore in the Atlantic around 4 P.M., going at a high rate of speed, said police. The Catch Me If You Can was being pursued by two Coast Guard cutters. According to police, the high-performance boat was earlier exceeding the 5 mph speed limit on the Intracoastal, and was causing docked boats to rock and hit against their moorings, a potentially dangerous situation if one of them slipped loose.
Irate boat owners called the Wrightsville police, who alerted the Coast Guard.
The cutters tried to intercept the boat as it came into Atlantic waters.
“We could see that the pilot caught sight of us,” said Coast Guardsman Richard Bonhomme. “He threw something in the water. It looked like a small bale of dark green hay, and then he just took off. That boat could fly!”
Even at top speed the cutters could not keep up with the Donzi. The 40-foot fiberglass speedboat was outfitted with twin 496 MAG high-output motors, each with 425 horsepower. By comparison, an ordinary recreational boat has one motor of about 200 horsepower.
“Drug dealers use these boats, and that’s exactly what this guy was,” said Bonhomme.
The Coast Guard was about to call in reinforcements when they noticed the pilot veering erratically.
“At that rate of speed, and with the waves cresting up to two feet near the shore, any movement of a wheel is dangerous,” said Bonhomme. “It looked like it was caught in the trough of a couple of waves, and the pilot lost control.”
A few surfers were in the water near the pier, but none of them was injured either by the boat or its considerable wake, said Bonhomme.
The pilot seemed to be headed for a point between the pilings, said the guardsman. “He was probably hoping we couldn’t follow him. I think he got hit by a wave, and it knocked the boat off course just enough.”
The Danzi smashed into the piling. The pilot was thrown clear and proceeded to swim to shore. “The boat burst into a million pieces, and the piling it ran into shattered,” said Bonhomme.
A spokesperson for Mercer’s Pier said damages could run upwards of $5,000.
Ten officers with the Wrightsville Police Department were waiting onshore, and captured the pilot of the boat as he stepped ashore.
The impact of the crash, and the high rate of speed, plus the swim in the choppy ocean had ripped all his clothes away, including his identification.
The man was cuffed and led away, naked, to a patrol car, where he was put in the back seat and taken to police headquarters.
The boat was registered in the name of Ricky Gonzales, of Grand Cayman Island.
“That’s where all the drug dealers live,” Bonhomme commented.
Other Coast Guard units recovered the green object the pilot had thrown overboard at the beginning of the chase.
“It was a high-quality bale of marijuana with a street value of $50,000,” said Wrightsville Beach Police Chief John Carey.
The man in custody has been charged with violating a number of unsafe boating laws. Investigation into his identity is continuing, and farther charges may be filed.