Lake Huron boating death a reminder of fuel-exhaust dangers
Written by Associated Press   
Sunday, 06 November 2005 11:43
The death of a Detroit-area woman who drowned while boating in Lake Huron illustrates the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning that face boaters, authorities said.

An autopsy of Lana Ann Stempien's body revealed an elevated level of carbon monoxide in her spleen, an organ that modifies the structure of blood, according to the Kent County medical examiner's office.

The findings indicate that the 35-year-old attorney from Grosse Pointe Farms, whose body was found in northern Lake Huron nearly two weeks after she and a companion disappeared, probably drowned when she went for a swim, got too close to the engine and was overcome by its fumes.

The other boater, Charles Rutherford, 34, of Grosse Pointe Farms, has not been found.

They were last heard from on Aug. 11 when they told a family member that they expected to reach Mackinac Island later that day. Their empty, idling, 26-foot boat was found Aug. 12 off Marquette Island, about 11 miles northeast of their destination.

Stempien's body was found near St. Ignace on Aug. 24.

Carbon monoxide poisoning, often associated with a defective home furnace or a car left running in a closed garage, is a growing problem among boaters, though mostly in the western United States, said Sgt. Dan Toth of the Oakland County sheriff's marine division.

Between 1990 and 2004, there were 571 boating-related carbon monoxide poisonings, including 113 deaths, according to federal government statistics. Figures for Michigan were not available.

"The Coast Guard and the (Michigan) Department of Natural Resources, in the past couple years, have really been emphasizing carbon monoxide awareness," Toth told The Detroit News for a story published Sunday.

Carbon monoxide-laden exhaust from a marine engine can enter a boat's cabin from a leaky exhaust system or when winds from the stern push fumes onto an idle boat.

"If you have a wind from the back, it's just like driving a vehicle with the tailgate open," said Lt. Brian Barlog, commander of the Macomb County sheriff's marine division.

New boats come with stickers warning of the problems of carbon monoxide, and most boaters are aware, the officers said.

Still, Toth warned of a growing, dangerous activity known as platform or teak surfing in which swimmers grip the wooden diving platform near a vessel's engine and the speeding boat drags them through the water directly beneath where exhaust fumes surface.

"You are essentially putting your face inches from the exhaust," he said

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