BY BRUCE COLLIER
A man drowned after his boat collided with a piling beneath the causeway of the U.S. 331 (Clyde B. Wells) bridge. Two other passengers in the boat received minor injuries in the accident, which took place at around 1:30 p.m. on July 20. The Walton County Sheriff’s Office assisted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in its effort to find the man. Other agencies involved were Freeport Fire and Rescue, Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Coast Guard.
At the time of the incident, William Andrew Moraga, 71, of Freeport, his granddaughter Angelica Morales, 15, and boat operator Harry Laird Jr., 73, were aboard a 16-foot outboard Key West motorboat which was westbound along the Choctawhatchee Bay. The accident happened north of the Clyde Wells Bridge when the boat collided with a cement piling underneath the U.S. 331 causeway. All three occupants were thrown overboard. Morales and Laird received minor injuries, and were able to make it to shore safely. They were taken to Sacred Heart Hospital in south Walton County for treatment and later released.
Moraga disappeared after going into the water.
The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office dive team, along with Freeport’s Fire and Rescue personnel, searched for Moraga. The U.S. Coast Guard was also involved in the search. A swift current and poor visibility hampered efforts to find Moraga, who was not wearing a life vest.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission kept a boat at the site, and at around 6:30 p.m. on Monday evening, recovery teams discovered the body of Moraga. He was found about 30 yards from where the initial incident took place on the Choctawhatchee Bay.
The accident remains under investigation. The bridge was reportedly not damaged, and is open to traffic.
Bruce Collier may be reached at email@example.com.