2 Martin County men -- 1 a retired racing champion -- die in separate incidents at race boat exhibit

TAVARES — Two Martin County race boat enthusiasts -- one a retired racing champion -- were among three men killed in two separate incidents this weekend during an exhibition of classic race boats on Lake Dora in Central Florida.

Sunday's crash took the lives of Charles "Chuck" Woodruff, 64, of Jensen Beach, and Dea Wiseley, 73, of Sun City Center. Both drivers were well-known in the classic raceboat show circuit especially Woodruff, a former North American champion-turned-owner in hydroplane-class boat racing.

The fatal collision came one day after another driver, Mark Van Winkle, 53, of Stuart, died after being ejected from his boat and struck by a passing vessel.

The deaths, the first in the regatta's six-year history, cast a pall over this lakeside community, where the event draws an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 spectators, vendors and boaters annually. Sunday's crowd was considerably smaller, however, after Saturday's fatality.

Authorities said Woodruff's boat, named Buckeye Kid, ran over the top of Wiseley's boat, tabbed the Shock-Wave, at about 2:15 p.m. on Sunday.

"At that point, both of these men were ejected," said Joy Hill, spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is leading the investigation of both deadly incidents. Investigators don't yet know the exact cause of the crash, she said.

The hydroplane boats were not carrying passengers.

VanWinkle died early Saturday afternoon while piloting a 16-foot homemade Jersey Skiff race boat. Investigators with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported that VanWinkle and passenger Lorrain Moody, 47, of Lake Placid, were ejected from the boat after it hit a wave. VanWinkle was killed after his head was struck by the propeller of another Jersey Skiff, driven by Phillip Marney, 18, of Jensen Beach, FWC officials reported.

Moody was later released from the hospital. Both she and VanWinkle were wearing helmets and life jackets, FWC reported.

Neither Marney nor his passenger, Timothy "TJ" Sohn, of Port St. Lucie, were reported to be injured. Sohn's age was not available.

Known as the Spring Thunder Regatta, it was billed as the annual kickoff to the boating season. Traveling at speeds as fast as 80 mph, drivers of the vintage racing boats were supposed to showcase speed, not compete in races, according to the Classic Race Boat Association, which sponsored the regatta.

Marty Ferry, a member of that association, referred details of the two boating incidents to FWC investigators.

Ferry did say that boats in the regatta were participating in exhibitions.

"We don't race," he said.

However, racing skiffs can travel around 60 miles per hour, and hydroplanes 70 mph, depending on their class, Ferry said.

Joyce Ross, public information officer for the Tavares Police, said there were seven boats participating in the Saturday event that killed VanWinkle, but only two hydroplanes were in the Sunday event that claimed the lives of Woodruff and Wiseley.

"We're just extremely saddened that this happened," Ross said. "Our hearts go out to the families of the people who were involved and to the spectators."

Ross said she did not know the speeds at which the boats were traveling when the two incidents occurred.

"I heard numbers from 70 mph to over 100 mph, Ross said. "But I don't know. That's what the FWC is going to have to determine."

"We've never had an incident like this before," said Mike Yobe, vice president of the Classic Race Boat Association. "We are just old men with old boats."

According to the website for the Classic Raceboat Association, it is a Florida-based organization founded to facilitate the exhibition of classic race boats of all types, from the early 1900s to the 1980s.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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