Joseph “Tosh” Allen of Estate Grunwald was killed when he was ejected from his speed boat, Bad News Travels Fast, after it became partially airborne and suffered severe structural damage Saturday afternoon, April 21, in the channel outside Cruz Bay.
The “go fast” boat hit a swell as it was heading north in front of the harbor, causing its bow to rise into the air nearly 65 degrees before it slammed back into the water, according to one eyewitness.
Allen, a popular V.I. Port Authority employee assigned to St. John, was thrown from the boat as the deck and seats separated from the hull, which cracked on impact, according to the eyewitness.
“When I looked over, I saw it coming off of a big swell or a wave, and there was a big splash,” said the eyewitness who asked not to be identified. “I thought I saw two boats, but I learned afterward that it was a person and debris coming out of the back of the one boat. The boat landed, and it immediately stopped.”
Captain Ejected from Boat
The eyewitness said he soon realized the boat was no longer running because its captain had been thrown into the water.
“I thought it stopped because the people in the boat were shaken up, and then I realized there was no one in the boat as far as we could tell,” he said.
One charter boat captain, who also asked not to be identified, said he saw Bad News Travels Fast traveling quickly just outside of Cruz Bay.
“I was coming back in from the British Virgin Islands, and I saw Bad News out there, which I’m very familiar with,” said the charter boat captain. “He was running up and down and going around, and it was the fastest I’d ever seen him go. He was really flying.”
Allen had apparently just finished working on the boat’s engines in preparation for the St. Thomas Carnival boat races scheduled for Sunday, April 22. The boat was a familiar sight on St. John, parked on a trailer alongside Centerline Road in Grunwald where Allen was often seen working on it.
St. John Rescue received a call at about 4 p.m. on Saturday and members responded in its new rescue vessel, according to spokesperson Bob Malacarne.
“The National Park Service was already there,” Malacarne said. “They were towing it in. It had some damage and the engine cover was missing.”
“We knew we were searching for at least one person,” Malacarne said.
There were “eight to ten boats” at the scene, including several VINP vessels, when St. John Rescue arrived, and a number of people donned snorkel gear to begin a search in the deep waters off of Gallows Point, according to the St. John Rescue spokesperson.
“One of the people found the hatch (engine) cover,” Malacarne said. “We anchored over that spot.”
“We needed divers,” added Malacarne, who said the water in the area was as much as 90 feet deep. Cruz Bay waterfront businesses Low Key Watersports and Ocean Runner power boat rentals responded and two divers were brought to the scene, he added.
The body of “Tosh” Allen was recovered near where St. John Rescue had anchored and was brought on board a V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) boat on the scene, according to Malacarne.
A St. John Rescue member boarded the DPNR boat to unsuccessfully attempt resuscitation, the St. John Rescue spokesperson added.
St. John Emergency Medical Services (EMS) took over the resuscitation efforts when the DPNR boat arrived at the VINP dock in Cruz Bay, according to Malacarne.
Witnesses Heard, Saw Crash
Malacarne, who lives near Gallows Point, said he had heard the boat passing through the channel inside of Stevens Cay from Moorehead Point past Frank Bay and Gallows Point several times before the crash.
“We heard him heading around Moorehead Point,” Malacarne told St. John Tradewinds. “We heard him, and then we heard boom, boom and silence.”
The accident happened while the charter boat captain who spoke with St. John Tradewinds was checking in at U.S. Customs, the charter captain explained.
“It took just minutes to get through Customs, and when I came back out, a V.I. Port Authority officer at the dock told me a boat just came apart out in the harbor,” said the charter boat captain. “He asked me if I could drive him out to the accident, so I did.”
The charter boat captain was surprised by the magnitude of the wreckage, he explained.
“The boat was sitting there with no top on it at all,” said the charter boat captain. “All it had was a hull and engines – the whole top was peeled right off. Nobody was inside, and by that time, the V.I. National Park boat and a ton of other boats were there.”
The damaged boat was hauled out by the VINP at the former seaplane ramp in Cruz Bay.
Rescue Response Was Quick
The response by both the private and the public sector was quick and efficient, according to the charter boat captain.
“The response was terrific,” he said. “There were a number of private boats which got out there really fast. The response was fantastic from the private sector and from the authorities."
While he did not witness anyone being pulled from the water, one of the rescue divers confirmed that the Bad News
Travels Fast’s captain was deceased, explained the charter boat captain.
“I didn’t witness the rescuers pull anyone up, but one of the divers came to my boat and said, ‘we’re bringing him in now,’” said the charter boat captain. “They said he was deceased.”
The charter boat captain said he had spoken with “Tosh” Allen that morning.
“This morning when I left, he had just put his boat in the water and was getting it ready,” said the charter boat captain Saturday evening. “I went by him and asked if he wanted to race me. Then all of a sudden this happens — it’s a tragedy.”