Boat jackknifes, flies from trailer in Berne

— Photo by George Duell
A total loss”: Scott Lendin’s 30-foot cruiser is hauled off in pieces after it was thrown from his trailer on Saturday. He had recently sold the boat, he said, and would refund the buyer’s deposit.

BERNE — Saturday was a bad day for Scott Lendin and a bad day for George Duell.

The two men know each other; Lendin had dug Duell’s pond.

Duell was in his front yard Saturday when a 30-foot boat being hauled by Lendin along the Helderberg Trail came off of its trailer.

“The boat started to jackknife and was airborne 15 feet in front of me,” said Duell. “It hit my maple tree six feet up.”

Duell’s property at 382 Helderberg Trail is near a 90-degree curve with a recommended speed limit of 30 miles per hour, he said, stressing that the limit is just a recommendation.

Duell, who had turned 66 on Sept. 10, said, “I almost lost my life.”

As he saw the accident unfold before his eyes, Duell ran a few steps. “Then I curled up in a ball,” he said. “I got sprayed,” he said, as gravel and glass from the boat’s shattered windshield flew at him.

He said two six-cylinder motors and two 50-gallon tanks of propane were also set loose. The debris field stretched for 75 yards, he said.

“I could hear the motor revved out … ,” said Duell. “It was like a mushroom cloud of debris.”

Duell, who works in construction, said that in the 29 years that he’s lived on Helderberg Trail, he’s witnessed seven accidents on the curve near his home.

When the highway department wouldn’t, Duell said, he built his own guard rails out of utility poles.

Still, he worries about the safety of his 7-year-old grandson who, just the day before, was playing where the boat crashed.

The accident site, he said, is also near a school-bus stop. “I will never let my grandson get on the school bus here again,” said Duell. “I can’t take any chances of losing my grandson.”

“Freak accident”

Lendin is well aware of the wall that Duell built for protection and of the dangers of that corner.

“I’ve lived here for 18 years,” said Lendin, who lives in Westerlo. “I know the corner. I know the curve.”

He estimates he was traveling at about 40 miles per hour.

He wasn’t charged with speeding. Rather, the Albany County Sheriff’s Office charged Lendin with having an unsecured load and an expired trailer registration, Lendin said.

Neither of those charges apply, Lendin says. The sheriff’s office did not respond to calls seeking comment.

“I haul heavy equipment,” said Lendin, who is 57. “That’s what I do for a living.”

He’s been hauling for 37 years and never had an accident, he said; for the last 20 years, he’s  owned his own hauling business.

Lendin said the boat was secured both with a cable in front and with two ratchet straps in back; each can bear 5,500 pounds, he said. That should have been more than enough to secure the 30-foot cruiser, which weighed about 8,000 pounds, he said.

“I had more than adequate straps,” Lendin said. “The rule of thumb is, if it rolls over, it stays on the trailer.”

“It was just a freak accident,” Lendin said, caused by a malfunction of his surge brake.

When he hit the brakes on his truck, Lendin said, “the trailer started getting squirrely … It threw the boat like a softball.”

He explained what went wrong by likening it to a ballpoint pen where the ink cartridge rides on a spring.  “That’s your surge break, he said, putting pressure on the spring. … It never came back out.”

The evidence is visible, he said, with the long black braking mark by the side of the road. “The trailer came forward and never released; there’s a black mark all the way around the corner.”

When Lendin, at the wheel, saw what was going wrong, he tried to pull over.

When the tires hit the soft shoulder, he said, they sunk in, as the boat jackknifed. “You can see the marks where they dug in … When it came sideways, three axles sideways in the dirt dug in … The strap on one side broke, then the strap on the other side, then the cable broke. The boat flipped and went into a million pieces.”

He went on, “I’m lucky the truck and trailer are OK.”

The lack of trailer registration was the duty of the boat’s new owner, who lives in Florida, Lendin said.

Lendin took a $3,500 deposit from the Floridian a month ago, he said. Lendin was driving the boat on Saturday from Selkirk to his home in Westerlo, to store it for the buyer.

“The guy I sold it to should have put the plate on,” said Lendin.

To replace the 1986 Cuddy Cabin Cruiser with a new one would cost about $70,000, said Lendim, adding that he thought he’d sold it for a fair price.

The boat, Lendin said is “a total loss” and not insured.

“He wants his money back,” Lendin said of the buyer and Lendin says he’ll comply and return the $3,500 deposit.

“I’m out 30 grand,” he concluded. “You ain’t kidding, I’m going to have to do a lot of work to replace it.”

Aftermath

On Monday, Duell posted a handmade sign by the Helderberg Trail that says, “Please slow down.”

On Tuesday, he delivered a letter to the Enterprise editor about Saturday’s crash, expressing his general concerns about road safety as well.

“I called Joel Willsey because he’s been an advocate for safety,” said Duell, referring to the Berne councilman who recently retired from the state’s Department of Transportation.

Willsey referred him to John Izzo, an engineer with the DOT, he said.

Duell disagreed with Lendin that the boat had been adequately secured. “The straps were dry-rotted. They were in pieces on the road,” he said. “The front cable was so old, it had frayed and broken strands.”

Duell went on, “The truck had a load of stone. It could have taken out the house if he’d lost control 100 feet earlier.”

Duell is thinking of reinforcing his homemade guardrail with concrete. “It still wouldn’t stop a truck with a load of stone,” he said.

Duell maintains that Lendin was traveling at “excessive speed.” He said, “The boat came up like a plane; he was at a very high rate of speed.”

He went on, “The vast majority of big trucks — there are hundreds a day on 443 — don’t speed on that curve.” If he’s out in his yard when a truck goes by at 30 miles per hour, Duell said, “I give them a thumbs up.”

He concluded, “It’s not about me. It’s about ignorant drivers and there are a lot out there.”

Duell stopped to say he wanted to add another adjective for drivers who speed: “arrogant.”

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