Cops: Boater in fatal crash was traveling at high speed

Emergency worker John Duryea called 911 for assistance

Emergency worker John Duryea called 911 for assistance as he found multiple people yelling for help at the fatal Wantagh boat crash on Sunday night. (Oct. 5, 2009) (Credit: James Carbone)

The operator of a high-performance powerboat passed "at a high rate of speed" under a bridge closed for construction before he crashed into marshland off Seaford, killing himself, his wife and a friend while leaving four passengers critically injured, police said Monday.

PHOTOS: Powerboat crashes off Wantagh

About two-thirds of the 76-foot-wide passage under the Goose Creek Bridge on the Wantagh Parkway is blocked off by barges and scaffolding as the state reconstructs the span.

A sign reading "channel closed" is mounted on a work barge facing west - the direction from which police said George Canni, 65, was traveling Sunday night as he piloted his Hustler powerboat Uncanni.

The barges and cranes have required navigation lights, and South Shore boaters say they have floodlights, too. Department of Transportation spokeswoman Eileen Peters said the Coast Guard has posted online notices about the closure.

Canni, of Copiague, crashed into the southwest corner of Goose Island at about 7:15 p.m. Sunday, a bit more than 1 mile northeast of the bridge. Nassau police said Monday that witnesses saw Canni's 40-foot powerboat pass under the bridge at a high speed. The boat then continued a short distance up a 5 mph channel, before entering another area with no posted speed limit.

It continued straight even when the channel made a dogleg to the left, ran through shallow water, then bounced up onto the marsh island. It came to rest with its stern about 10 yards from the water's end and about 100 yards outside the eastern edge of the channel. All seven people aboard were ejected.

Police said they did not know how fast the Cigarette-style boat was going, but its manufacturer said it was built to go 60 or 65 mph. The channel where it crashed is 30 yards wide.

Boating safety experts were stunned by the accident.

"There are U.S. Coast Guard rules of the road for nighttime piloting," said Capt. Russ Cohen, founder and president of the New Jersey-based Boatboy Marine Training, which trains mariners.

"He should have known the bridge was closed to traffic. By law all small bridges are slow zones with no wakes. The definition of a safe speed is one at which you can avoid a collision."

Also killed in the crash were Theresa Maniaci-Canni, 46, and a friend of the couple's, Joseph Sugamele, 50, of Massapequa. Police identified the four injured as a woman, 54, who suffered head trauma and was in critical condition at Nassau University Medical Center; her husband, 48, who suffered fractured vertebrae, also at NUMC; a 50-year-old woman who also suffered fractured vertebrae and was taken to New Island Hospital; and a 54-year-old man from Farmingdale who suffered fractures in both legs and was taken to NUMC. All were listed in critical condition.

Police said they were investigating all possible factors in the accident. Sources said there were no obvious signs of alcohol use. Autopsy results have not been released.

Sea Tow Freeport Capt. John Duryea, who said he arrived on the scene shortly after the crash, said the evening was hazy and even with the full moon, "the visibility was definitely restricted."

"To hit the marsh and run up on top of it like that, you would have to be going at a pretty good rate of speed," said Nassau police Det. Lt. Kevin Smith Sunday evening.

Friends and boating experts expressed shock that an experienced boater such as Canni would be involved. Canni was "a very careful guy who never took any chances," said Joe Logiudice, a 40-year friend of Canni's whose company, Hustler Powerboats of Calverton, built Canni's boat. "They've gone that way 100 times," Logiudice said.

With Mark Harrington

PHOTOS: Powerboat crashes off Wantagh

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