UPDATE: Mercer Island Man Killed in Wakeboarding Accident

South-end resident Nathan Bahner was killed last Friday following a wakeboarding accident on Lake Washington. The operator of the boat towing him was later arrested for suspicion of BUI.

Update, Tuesday, 4 p.m.: The Seattle Police Department contacted Mercer Island Patch this afternoon to request a clarification of remarks made in two on-record interviews regarding the arrest of the operator of a boat involved in the death of local resident Nathan Bahner.

Seattle Police Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said defense attorney Robert Flennaugh — hired to represent the family of the arrested boat operator — contacted him today requesting the clarification.

Whitcomb said that police generally arrest a person based on probable cause when considering whether or not a crime was committed. He said that police officers in a hypothetical DUI situation can determine that they think the suspect is intoxicated, but that allegation can be contested in a court of law.

"We believe the operator of the boat was impaired and we did arrest him for BUI. That's based upon our investigation and response. We actually had a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) respond to that call."


Original Story: Nathan Bahner, 33, was killed in a wakeboarding accident on Lake Washington this weekend, according to the Seattle Police Department.

The Mercer Island man was wakeboarding on Lake Washington near Seattle's Seward Park around 6 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 10 and was being towed toward Mercer Island when the accident occurred, officials said.

Seattle Police Detective Mark Jamieson said the boat towing Bahner pulled his body aboard the boat and docked at a residential moorage on the 7400 block of West Mercer Way at 6:07 p.m. and called 911. EMTs were first to respond within 8 minutes to provided medical aid and CPR on the dock. Medic One paramedics later pronounced him dead at the scene.

Because the accident occurred in waters closest to Seattle, a Seattle Police Department traffic collision squad was dispatched to Mercer Island to investigate the accident. Seattle Police officers said they believe the operator of the boat was intoxicated and arrested him on suspicion of boating under the influence. As of 2 p.m. Monday, no charges have been filed in the case.

"This is still an active and ongoing investigation," Jamieson said.

The King County Medical Examiner's Office said on Monday that the cause of death is also still pending investigation.

Wakeboarding is similar to water skiing in that the rider is towed behind a boat and rides on the surface of the water, but uses a single, buoyant board made of lightweight materials, and the rider uses bindings to hold the rider's feet in place.

(Ed. Note: This story has been updated. Seattle Police requested a clarification of comments — based on two on-record interviews — that were made in an earlier version of this story about why police arrested the boat operator for BUI.)

Jessica C. August 14, 2012 at 10:21 PM
Whooooa, there. That is not WHY it happened. He was arrested under suspicion for a BUI, there is currently NO connection to anything related to the accident, as will continue to be determined upon more investigation. Careful with your words, reporters!! The who, what, when, where is fine. The why is not accurate!
Jeanne Gustafson August 14, 2012 at 11:13 PM
Well, ok, Jessica. Perhaps you can fill this in. Would you say it is not a factor in the why that the driver was deemed under the influence?
Jeanne Gustafson August 14, 2012 at 11:22 PM
To be quite frank here, I know no one wants to point fingers, and this article states time and again that this was an accident. But there are at least as many people who would say we were remiss in not saying the police are investigating this case as a BUI. Do you really think this is an item not to be mentioned in local news, where boating and water issues are so very important. I'm not understanding this, when no one has come forward and said I was there, and this is what happened, and the driver was definitely not under the influence. Kendall reported what the police reported, and clearly stated that no charges have been filed. I understand the community concern, but this is not negligent reporting. Sure he could say what if, or this could have happened, but that would not be reporting. Reporting is getting the best facts/statements and opinions available at the time from authorities and anyone else who he can identify and try to call and who comments. Kendall has said he tried to contact others, who did not respond right away, so if you have issues with the official police statement, I understand, but that does not, in my mind, equal lax journalism, and none of that takes away from the notion that this was an accident, unintended, which is clearly noted in the article.
Jeanne Gustafson August 14, 2012 at 11:44 PM
In regards to reasonable reporting, I think we could take an example from a recent, very tragic Kirkland case involving cars instead of boats, and a driver who almost certainly didn't set out to get in an accident that would kill someone. Should Patch have not reported that this was a suspected drunk driver or waited to report this until full details, or not reported it because the person driving the passenger who died was under suspicion, or it would be a hardship to the community if one of their own was under suspicion, or Patch didn't have every single detail at the moment? http://kirkland.patch.com/articles/driver-of-car-in-fatal-juanita-drive-crash-booked-for-vehicular-homicide. I think we would be wise to err on the side of bringing the community the information available as soon as possible and adding to it later, as Kirkland Patch did: http://kirkland.patch.com/articles/driver-9b6f533c. This does not, in my opinion, blame the person who died, or indict the person who was under the influence any further than the factual police statement/charges.
Kendall Watson August 15, 2012 at 12:02 AM
Thanks for the words of support, Jeanne. While the boat operator was arrested for suspicion of BUI, they are still investigating the "why" aspect — they may or may not be related. In addition, I'll need to update this story as it appears the Seattle Police Department would now like to "clarify" their on-record statements from interviews I conducted yesterday and today that might allay some concerns expressed here.
Kendall Watson August 15, 2012 at 12:47 AM
This story has been updated after the Seattle Police Department requested a clarification of on-record comments concerning why police arrested the boat operator on suspicion of BUI.
Jeanne Gustafson August 15, 2012 at 01:55 AM
Thanks for your comment, Jeff. I and I'm sure Kendall, appreciate all the comments here, and sympathize with grieving friends, family and community. Sometimes, the why cannot be known without a shadow of a doubt, and almost never in the first blush of an incident, but that doesn't diminish the pain of the loss of this vibrant man's life.
Kendall Watson August 15, 2012 at 02:20 AM
Thanks Jeff. I appreciate the comment.
Keith Neighbors August 15, 2012 at 06:30 AM
Jeanne perhaps not the time or place for your soapbox, people are grieving. Sometimes being right or wrong should come 2nd to compassion... Just a thought
Jeanne Gustafson August 15, 2012 at 03:20 PM
I appreciate your comment, Keith, and I see your point. It wasn't my intention to climb up on the box. Everyone touched by this loss has my sympathy.
Mark C August 15, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Amen Keith.
CRT August 15, 2012 at 08:03 PM
As a former Mercer Island resident (I grew up on the Island and went to school for many years with both Nate and Molly), I am shocked at the responses I have seen. Nate was a remarkable person and his loss is a sad and crushing blow to many loved ones. But it is also frustrating, especially if it was reasonably avoidable. Not driving a boat while drunk is reasonably avoidable. There are many heartbreaking stories about people who have inadvertently killed loved ones while operating a vehicle under the influence and no one is saying that there were malicious intentions. The article is not even declaring the guilt or innocence of the driver, but there sure are a lot of people who are very defensive about a drunk driving a boat. Guilty consciences maybe? Nothing will bring Nate back, but the Nate I knew would have wanted people to learn from the mistakes of this accident and never repeat them, and you can't do that by covering them up with lawyers or an anti-reporter campaign.
Jessica C. August 15, 2012 at 09:27 PM
Would you say it was a factor? YOU and I have no idea - we weren't there!!! YOU have zero idea the why, we can assume, but, well that makes us both you know whats. They had to arrest him ON SUSPICION of BUI whether it was related or not because they knew he (or she) was driving the boat and they SUSPECTED it.
AP August 16, 2012 at 06:01 AM
All charges dropped. Not drunk, shut your mouths.
Pedro August 16, 2012 at 06:27 AM
Jeanne & Kevin, Please! Are you really defending this as journalism? Jeanne. you should stick to Plateau issues. This article, by the headline, infers that somone, by their acts, caused the death of someone else. Very slippery slope with this type of reporting. The Seattle police are conducting their investigation into what caused this accident. Regardless of the findings, the "Patch" reporting the wakeboarder was "killed" is very premature. This is a very sad story and everyone involved should receive the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. Kendall, I am not asking you to retract the story, just get the headline and facts correct, as provided. Your defense of your reporting proves otherwise...
Kendall Watson August 16, 2012 at 03:56 PM
We have a call in to the Seattle Police Department to confirm the status of their investigation. Stay tuned.
Kendall Watson August 16, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Pedro, Thanks for your concern. I disagree with your premise that the facts provided are incorrect. I reported the information that was given to me at the time by the authorities, "as provided". The police decided at the time (still the case, even after the SPD walked back their "determined" comment) that there was probable cause to make an arrest for BUI. This appears to be the biggest bone of contention among folks who have complained about the factual basis of this story. We also share a difference of opinion with the use of the word "killed". Our standard, which conforms to journalistic best practices, is to describe events as accurately as possible. "Died" or "death" is a broad term — It is my opinion that this violent death was most accurately described in this way. It is an erroneous reading of the facts to assume that because the headline of the story states that 1) a person was killed in an accident, followed by 2) the description of the circumstances, followed by 3) the description of the arrest and the reason for the arrest (which was for suspicion of BUI, not Manslaughter or Homicide) would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the person arrested is guilty of killing the victim of the accident. As of Thursday, the latest information that we have is the boat operator has NOT been charged with a crime, but IS under police investigation. We will report any developments in this case as they become known to us.
Kendall Watson August 16, 2012 at 06:24 PM
This is incorrect. Here's what SPD spokesperson Sgt. Sean Whicomb said on Thursday, Aug. 16 at 11:15 a.m. about the case: "We investigate incidents and then we provide information to the prosecutor's office and it's their decision on whether or not to bring charges. It would be factually incorrect to say that the SPD has dropped all charges. This is an active and ongoing investigation." I also asked about the possibility that the boat operator had been notified by police that he was no longer being investigated. "No, that's not the way we do things. When we conclude the investigation, we will forward our report to the prosecutor's office. That's how it works."
Jeanne Gustafson August 16, 2012 at 07:32 PM
Pedro, This is a very sad story, no doubt about it. I appreciate CRT's sentiment that his friend would want some good to come from this tragedy, and I agree with you that there's room for that discussion to include how people feel about the story. In answer to your question, yes, I am defending Kendall's reporting. I don't think the story is inaccurate, or fails to give anyone the benefit of the doubt. "Killed in an accident" is a phrase that is accurate and commonly used (people often are said to have been killed in accidents even where no other individuals are present), and I agree with Kendall's reasons as described in his response to your comment, though I certainly respect that you disagree with the word usage. On the topic of whether I should comment here, of course anyone can comment here, but as I mentioned, I have worked on Mercer Island Patch frequently, and was merely stating my position at Patch for the sake of information for users. Since you brought it up, I would add my opinion that boater safety qualifies as a "Plateau issue," both for people who boat on Lake Sammamish and those who enjoy the waters of Lake Washington; and the discussion of how a story was reported is relevant to me as a local journalist and as a colleague at Patch.
Carla Rodriguez August 16, 2012 at 10:38 PM
Kendall, Thanks for clarifying...from reading this thread my impression is that many here are connecting lines that the reporting and the evidence have not drawn. And it is this (erroneous) imputation that is leading people to take a defensive position. Mercer Island Patch would not be the great source for local news that it is if its editorial staff delayed coverage of unfolding news stories until the completion of an investigation. It would be a biased source of information if Patch decided to delay some stories and not others. The mudslinging on this thread puts more emphasis on the BUI charge, the very thing people say they don't want to talk about, while detracting from the real story: one about a family that lost a father, husband, son, a vibrant member of the community. My thoughts are with the Bahner family.
Rob August 16, 2012 at 10:47 PM
So true...let's all let it rest and celebrate Nate and his great gifts to this island and this world...and send prayers and thoughts to those so painfully affected.
Diron Mobley August 17, 2012 at 07:17 AM
Nate is the story, not what happened. Everyone involved is family, that's what we're trying to say. Nate would not be placing blame, I'm pretty sure of that. So please, let's focus on the loss of Nate and his grieving family and friends. Sincerely, Diron Mobley
dorimonsonfan August 17, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Kendal and Jeanne, I was born locally and grew up and live near Redmond. I just wanted to say your reporting has been fair and accurate. I feel great sympathy for everyone touched by this tragic situation. That being said, as someone who enjoys boating on lake sammamish and lake washington with my own young son the public needs to know about these incidences. The police are very good at determining if someone is intoxicated. If charges are not brought it isn't because the driver was sober, it's because people on M.I. have tons of money, power, and influence. These drunk boaters don't give a second of though that there bad decisions could kill my little son, and therfore ruin my life and my wife's. I am glad the only people killed were those involved in the poor decisions made. Again, condolences to those touched, and thank you for keeping us informed on areas to avoid drunk boaters.
Jesse Du Bey August 17, 2012 at 10:17 PM
Having not lived on MI for almost 20 years, I very rarely read MI local news. I just happened upon this website this week and saw the news of Nate Bahner's tragic death. I remember Nate quite well from MIHS, he was a guy who left a searing, positive impression. What a tragedy. So, a hopefully objective attempt to inject some common sense into this string of comments: -Kendall: your story is accurate, but that isnt the point. In a small town, the loss of a 33 year old father of 3 who has lived all his life in the town is a shocking and emotional thing. Probably worth some empathy in the story to save yourself all this criticism. You obviously didnt mean anything hurtful. -Jeff and Jeanne : your posts seem a little overzealous for two people who arent close with the deceased or the deeply affected. You really want to debate the "5 w's or reporting" in a comments string relating to a story about a beloved person's passing? This is the definition of tone deaf. Enough already. -Nate's family and friends: my deepest condolences. From NY, Jesse Du Bey
dorimonsonfan August 17, 2012 at 10:23 PM
Jeff, discussing my self esteem or lack of seems a bit off topic, so I won't speak to that. Regarding the sobriety of the boat driver, I think you are being disingenuous at best. I would argue that the rarity of police arresting someone for being impared when they are not is astronomical. There might be one time in 5000 or so where a medical issue is mistaken for imparement. Perhaps a migraine, stroke, low blood sugar etc. And we all know the more money you have the better your chances of getting charges dropped, not due to guilt or innocence, but due to some silly technicality. So be honest with yourself. Wakeboarders on a sunny day, with ties to a fraternity and officers found enough for an arrest. Do you really think drinking wasn't involved? Honestly ask yourself. And again, condolences to the friends and family of Nathan.
lw August 18, 2012 at 08:22 PM
"So be honest with yourself. Wakeboarders on a sunny day, with ties to a fraternity and officers found enough for an arrest. Do you really think drinking wasn't involved?" - Drawing such prejudiced conclusions in the face of this tragedy is shameless. We are talking about a 33-year old MAN, husband, and father of three. It is astonishing that you feel entitled to judge Nate and the circumstances of his tragic death as having been deserved or brought upon himself... because he was wakeboarding and happened to have been an active fraternity member over TEN YEARS AGO. The investigation will bear out the facts. And until they do, Detective Columbo, your comments are unnecessary, uninformed, and just unkind.
dorimonsonfan August 18, 2012 at 09:39 PM
Lw, Prejudiced conclusions? Are you serious? There was a fatal accident on lake washington followed by a very extensive investigation and an ARREST was made. Police don't arrest people for being impared without doing a long series of tests. And as far as being judgemental, yea I am judging people who drink and drive. It's a deadly combo, and a miracle no innocent bystanders were hurt or killed, as is usually the case in dui crashes. And as for being a father, I too am the father of a three year old. I'd love nothing more than to launch our little boat at coulon park with my son today and do some trout fishing at the southern tip of Mercer Island. But there is sure to be drunk boaters out there so my 3 year old is out of luck. Condolences to Nate's friends and family, and I hope his three kids can recover from this over time. What a horribly tragic situation.
Noelle August 24, 2012 at 05:24 AM
I always like to think that out of some tragedy, another person may be saved... even if the boater had not been drinking, it has caused us all to rethink boating while having wine, beer.. what have you. It is no different than a car. Let's hope a mercer island resident will think twice about this and perhaps some good can come of his passing.. tragic beyond words. I cannot believe his family has to suffer through this and my prayers for his entire family and all of his friends are stronger than words can express. God bless him and his babies. And give strength to his wife and parents... and loved ones. Everyone needs to slow down. And realize that accidents happen. And they are just that.. accidents. Be cautious in all that you do. Always.
Larry Sarchin January 16, 2013 at 08:49 PM
As a former newspaper reporter, 50- year MI resident, and a journalism grad from the UW, I do not see any fault in Mr. Watson's reporting on this tragedy. Obviously, many of the people angry at the tone of the story were close to Mr. Bahner and expected more of his personal history, which reporters know is often not available immediately when dealing with a shocked and grieving family. As for the alleged DUI boater, Mr. Watson was simply citing the facts of an arrest, which is public record. Blaming the messenger won't bring Nate Bahner back. Nothing in this report was either irresponsible or libelous.
Liquidthunder January 23, 2013 at 04:33 AM
Sorry to the family but drinking and driving kills people same as boating and driving. He was arrested for BUI and there's a good chance it wasn't a bad arrest. You guys need to stop burying your head in the sand.


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