Water lovers more cautious after crash
By ERIC STIRGUS
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 14, 2001
SEMINOLE -- The waters of Lake Seminole were largely vacant Sunday morning, just as John Petrilla likes it.
Petrilla and his friends wanted to have enough space on the lake to practice stunts such as figure eights or doughnuts on their personal watercraft. That task is difficult on most weekends with the legions of people who make the lake their personal playground.
On Sunday, though, everyone was a little more careful, and the lake was a little less crowded.
A week earlier, a woman riding a Sea Doo was killed on a busy Sunday when she collided with an ultralight in the lake.
"Oh, definitely," said Andres Hunyh, 33, of Tampa when asked if he was being more cautious in the wake of the incident.
"You've got to look out, especially on water, because it's harder to control a vehicle on water than on land," Petrilla, 25, of St. Petersburg said after cruising the waters of the 684-acre lake in his Kawasaki 650.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office marine unit is still investigating last week's accident.
John Tanner said he was taxiing his ultralight on the waterway after landing when the Sea Doo struck the back of his aircraft. Some witnesses told the St. Petersburg Times that it appeared Tanner was at fault.
The driver of the Sea Doo, Maryann Scibelli of St. Petersburg, was thrown into the craft's propeller. Scibelli, 52, was pronounced dead at Bayfront Medical Center.
As a precaution, the Federal Aviation Administration said last week that it would fine pilots flying over the lake if there is significant boat traffic. Though the FAA has minimal regulatory power over ultralights, guidelines prohibit ultralight pilots from flying over congested areas or creating a hazardous situation. Fines for violating those guidelines can be more than $1,000, FAA officials said.
By all accounts, Lake Seminole gets pretty crowded on weekend afternoons. Most of the people on boats and personal watercraft scoot about the southern half of Lake Seminole, hoping to avoid disturbing residents of the homes on the northern end of the lake.
Usually, the greatest danger comes from inexperienced boaters or those who like to speed, according to those who use the lake regularly.
"A lot of people don't know you are supposed to yield right," said John Belcher, 22, of Largo, who joined Petrilla and Hunyh to jet ski Sunday.
There are others who are more proficient in their ability to maneuver their watercraft, but even people like Belcher -- who consider themselves experts on the personal watercraft -- try to keep their distance.
"I try to stay away from those guys because once you get hit, whoo," Petrilla said.
Regulars say ultralights flying overhead are rare. Still, they weren't taking any chances Sunday.
Jim Zampieri, who has been coming to the lake for about 20 years, usually focuses on other watercraft. Zampieri, who was on his Sea Doo, said he would now listen carefully for any hovering aircraft.
"There's competition between boats, other Sea Doos, so you always have to be careful," said Zampieri, 45. "I suppose, once in a while, I'll look up in the skies. It obviously makes you aware of the danger."
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