The driver of a volunteer fire department boat was indicted by a grand jury Monday in connection with the July 4 death of a Woodbridge woman in a late-night accident on the Potomac River.
Roger Donais, 35, was charged with operating a motor boat in a reckless manner and involuntary manslaughter, according to Julia Dixon-Smith, Department of Game and Inland Fisheries spokeswoman. Game and Inland Fisheries officers investigated the accident along with Prince William police.
Elisa Escalante, 20, died when the 22-foot Occoquan-Woodbridge-Lorton Volunteer Fire Department’s Boston Whaler crashed into a marker about 100 to 200 yards off Freestone Point at 11:40 p.m. on its way back to Belmont Bay. The boat was split about half-way through the hull, ultimately coming to rest in an impaled position on the marker, Dixon-Smith said last month.
Escalante was riding along as a non-member with firefighters Donais and Stuart Young, 24.
The crew was returning from a patrol shift at the time of the accident. They had been spotted moments earlier by a game warden at Leesylvania State Park and may have been leaving the park, heading back out into the river when they hit the unlit marker. It is unclear what exactly caused the accident; officials have not publicly disclosed the circumstances leading up to the crash.
Donais was flown to Inova Fairfax Hospital after the crash; he suffered head injuries and a fractured pelvis. Young was flown to Washington Hospital Center with a broken wrist. Escalante died of blunt force trauma to the head, a doctor told her father. She was pronounced dead at Potomac Hospital just after midnight.
It was unclear how she suffered the head trauma, although Young and Escalante were both thrown from the boat.
Escalante, an aspiring firefighter, had been on ride-alongs with the two men before. She was planning on applying to the OWL Fire Department.
Escalante called her father Antonio from her cell phone at about 11 p.m. and told him they had responded to a boat fire — he thinks she might have said it was at the Washington, D.C., fireworks display.
OWL officials said the Boston Whaler didn’t go farther north than the Ft. Belvoir area that night. The crew did not respond to any calls, OWL officials and the U.S. Coast Guard said.
It is routine for the department to patrol the river, OWL officials and Charles County, Md., rescue boat captains have said. Maryland owns most of the Potomac. The crew was on the river at a late hour because boats were still returning from the Washington, D.C., fireworks show.
The marker separates Virginia and Maryland.
Escalante’s parents were in El Salvador and unavailable for comment Monday, a relative told the Potomac News and Manassas Journal Messenger.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert did not return calls to the newspapers Monday. OWL officials could not be reached late Monday.