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Homicide charges filed after fatal boat crash near Ellsworth

ELLSWORTH, Wis. — A Minnesota man has been criminally charged in a fatal boating crash on the Wisconsin side of the St. Croix River.

Patrick A. Puhalla, 47, of Bayport, Minn., is accused of driving a boat while drunk in June and crashing into the shoreline near Kinnickinnic State Park. David Riley, 40, of New Richmond, was a passenger in the boat and was killed. Riley worked as a harbormaster at Windmill Marina in Afton, Minn.

Puhalla was charged Thursday in Pierce County Circuit Court with homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle and five other counts.

A criminal complaint said Puhalla spoke with investigators while recovering from his injuries at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minn., a week after the crash and said he wasn't actually operating the boat and that it was being steered by electronics on the night of the crash. Puhalla said there had been ongoing issues with the electronics on the 40-foot Formula 400 boat.

He estimated it was going about 30 to 35 mph when it crashed.


Testing after the crash showed Puhalla's blood-alcohol level was 0.11, according to the complaint. The limit for operating a boat in Wisconsin is 0.08, the same as for motor vehicles.

Another passenger on the boat, Daniel Schulte, said Puhalla didn't appear to be intoxicated, the complaint states. Court records do not list an attorney for Puhalla and his phone number in Minnesota has been disconnected.

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