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Powerboat racer from LI killed in crash in Florida Keys, officials say

Joeseph Sgro with one of his powerboats in

Joeseph Sgro with one of his powerboats in 2009. Credit: Joel Cairo

A Long Island powerboat racer has died after his vessel flipped over while cruising in the Florida Keys, authorities said Friday.

Joseph Sgro, 63, one of five Long Islanders aboard the 50-foot powerboat, was operating the throttles when the boat rolled over Thursday in the Gulf of Mexico, Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said in a statement.

Records show Sgro is from Bellmore. He also served as president and director of the Bristol, Rhode Island-based Outerlimits Powerboats Inc., which manufactures and sells powerboats, according to that state’s business records.

“We’re all longtime friends, all five of us,” said one of the boaters, Joseph Nestola, 56, of Merrick, from his hospital bed at a Miami hospital trauma center.

Sgro, he said, “was a great guy and a great family man . . . He was a good friend to everybody and a hardworking entrepreneur.”

Nestola said he was thrown from the boat and now is being treated for a broken shoulder blade, a bruised rib cage, and water in the lungs.

Another passenger, identified by Florida officials as Joseph Latona, 60, also was injured when the 2017 Outerlimits powerboat — which had two operators at the time — turned over and became partially submerged, the agency said.

Nestola said he was the only one still hospitalized. Records show Latona also is from Merrick.

Joseph Cibellis, 52, who was at the helm when the midday accident occurred, and Steven Kropp, 60, both escaped injury, the agency said. Cibellis is from Oceanside; Kropp lives in Bellmore, records show.

By 2009, Sgro had racked up more than a dozen national and world titles in powerboating, and was running a Brooklyn bus company, Maggie’s Transportation, according to a Newsday article.

Powerboating is an exceptionally dangerous sport because the boats’ top speeds easily surpass 100 mph, magnifying the consequences of even the slightest miscalculation.

Nestola said the men were participating in the Florida Powerboat Club’s annual poker run. They were not traveling fast when their craft rolled over, he said, adding the cause of the crash is not known.

The other four men were trapped underneath when the powerboat capsized; they had to release their seat belts to escape, he said.

Florida officials did not provide further details about the crash, including the boat’s speed. The poker run takes powerboaters 180 miles from Miami to Key West. Sgro and his crew were traveling west in the Gulf, north of Marathon, when their vessel crashed, the agency said. Marathon is located in the Middle Keys.

In the 2009 article in Newsday, Sgro called himself “an adrenaline junkie.”

Sgro, who grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, told Newsday he got his sea legs during summers spent in Hampton Bays, where his parents had a house when he was a kid.

“I’d come home from the last day of school, and my dad would be packing up the car,” Sgro says. He would spend all summer out on the water, fishing, crabbing and, eventually, boating.

He says his powerboat racing was a natural progression, a way to stay out of trouble, really.

“Around 1985, my friend Joe Latona moved to Long Island. He bought an old race boat. It was loud, fast, annoying,” Sgro says. “We had a lot of problems with the bay constable, with the marine police, the Coast Guard.”

“After getting a handful of tickets,” he says, they began racing in the Northeast, taking their 28-foot Manta Fever boat to second place in their first race in 1986.

By midsummer of 2009, Sgro was racing in the Powerboat P1 World Championship, piloting a 43-foot, 8,000-pound V-bottom boat against international teams at Grand Prix of the Sea events across Europe and the Middle East.

His friend, Nestola, said Sgro leaves behind six children, two grandchildren — “and one on the way.”

With Rosemary Olander and William Murphy

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