Investigators: Alcohol use suspected after man badly slashed by boat prop at Horsetooth Reservoir

22-year-old victim in critical condition

FORT COLLINS, Colo. - Authorities suspect alcohol played a role in a boating incident that left a man critically injured from propeller lacerations at Horsetooth Reservoir on Sunday afternoon.

Just before 6 p.m., Larimer County sheriff's deputies and county rangers were called on a report of a boating accident at the reservoir's Sunrise Picnic Area.

They found a 22-year-old man with severe lacerations to most of the right side of his body, said John Schulz, spokesman for the sheriff's office. The victim was immediately airlifted to Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland where he underwent emergency surgery.  He was listed in critical condition on Monday afternoon.

The victim, from Blue River, Colorado, was reportedly riding on a motorboat to the shoreline so he could leave the reservoir, Schulz said. As the boat was backing up to the shore to drop the man off, he jumped from the boat, which backed over him with its propeller.

Witness Paul Stark said he was on the shoreline when he saw a boat bring the injured man on a stretcher to shore.

"I saw some big gashes, and I couldn't tell if his leg had been broken a little bit," Stark told 7NEWS reporter Lindsey Sablan. "There was quite a bit of blood actually, and they had it wrapped up."

Rescuers carried the victim by stretcher to an ambulance in the parking lot as a helicopter circled overhead, Stark said.

Stark added that he saw law enforcement officers giving a man from the boat a sobriety test.

The boat was driven by a 22-year-old Fort Collins man, authorities said.

Schulz said there were nine adults on the boat, ranging in age from 19 to 22.  All are believed to have been drinking alcohol, he added.

Larimer County Department of Natural Resources' rangers and sheriff's deputies are conducting a joint investigation. No charges have been filed at this time, Schulz said, adding that the identity of the victim will not be released and the identity of the driver will only be released if charges are filed.

County Ranger Jim Hawkins said boating under the influence is the third most common offense rangers see. The threshold for a boating under the influence violation is the same as drunken driving -- a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent.

Horsetooth is the second busiest reservoir in the state. A total of about 66,000 boaters visit Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Lake each year, Hawkins said.

On average, county rangers make two boating under the influence arrests on a normal summer weekend at the county's reservoirs and that jumps to about six BUI arrests on a busy holiday like the Fourth of July, Hawkins said.

"This is a vacation for them. They don't have the mentality somebody can get hurt," Hawkins said of boaters. "They want to come up here, have a good time with their family. And that's what we want them to have -- but we also want them to recreate safely."

Sheriff Justin Smith issued a statement reminding the public that excessive alcohol does not mix with boating, tubing or other water activities and encouraging people to wear their flotation devices and have the proper equipment for the activity they are engaged in for a safe and fun holiday.

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