SYLVAN BEACH -- It was a "guys day," a celebration of family and summer. Three men and their dad took a 20-foot powerboat out on the central New York lake where they grew up, partly to mark the oldest son's upcoming engagement.
The family patriarch and two sons would die on Oneida Lake that Thursday night. A third son was badly injured, and his mother said he now carries the burden of surviving.
The oldest son, Stephen Aceto, had told his family he was there to propose to his girlfriend, Krista Zeisman. She suspected the big question was coming her way but didn't know for sure, said Stephen's mother, Carolyn Aceto. Up from Tampa, Fla., where she and Stephen lived, she was meeting the large, close-knit Italian family for the first time since they started dating a year ago.
As the women, Carolyn and Krista included, mingled at home in nearby Utica, the men were on Oneida Lake, watching fireworks a day after Independence Day. It was a lake, Carolyn said, they knew "like the back of your hand" from family outings over the decades before.
"They were just going to have a guys day," Carolyn Aceto said in a strong voice that yielded to occasional cracks. "Just a guys fun day, then all of us all together."
Shortly after 10 p.m., the pilot, believed by Carolyn Aceto to be 33-year-old Timothy Aceto, got distracted by fireworks. He looked away for a second and hit the concrete base of a buoy, wrecking the boat and sending all four men into the water. None wore a life jacket.
The bodies of Anthony Aceto, 66, Stephen, 41, and Timothy, were recovered the next day by emergency crews. Anthony, a 39-year-old husband and father of a 2-year-old boy, survived with a broken shoulder and cracked ribs. Though cleared physically to go home Saturday, his mother said, he is shattered by the tragedy, feeling the burden of survivor's guilt for not being able to save his father and brothers.
"He's lost his father, his brothers," Carolyn Aceto told The Associated Press on Saturday evening. "He couldn't save them."
The men were returning to the village when the crash occurred in an area known as Messenger Shoal, said Oneida County Sheriff's Lt. James McCarthy. The cause of the crash is still under investigation.
At the Aceto home in Utica, where Anthony and Carolyn raised their boys in a "big, typical Italian family," dozens of friends and family gathered Saturday to support the clan.
"I'm just glad I've got one son left," Carolyn said. "He's got a cracked shoulder and broken ribs but he made it. He's lost his father. He couldn't save them. He's having nightmares."