Collision with rake barge takes the life of Missouri johnboat operator

A 51-year-old man died after the johnboat he was driving collided with a tug and barge and rolled over in the Missouri River near St. Charles County, Mo.

The Oct. 23, 2013, accident claimed the life of Rodney Allen “Rocky” Stumo of Rolla, Mo. Stumo was operating a johnboat with a cabin on it as part of the construction crew working on a railroad bridge upriver from the Lewis Bridge that carries U.S. Route 67 over the river.

Stumo was piloting the johnboat perpendicular to the flow of the river from the bridge trestle pier back to the shore. The towboat Jennie Dehmer was pushing two barges, the first of which was a rake barge, according to Lt. Colin Fogarty, public affairs officer for Sector Upper Mississippi River for the U.S. Coast Guard.The 2,250-hp Jennie Dehmer, owned by Magnolia Marine Transport of Vicksburg, Miss., was bound for Kansas City.

When he saw the johnboat headed toward the tow, the wheelsman on Jennie Dehmer put the throttle in full astern and sounded warning whistles, said Roger Harris, senior vice president of operations for Magnolia Marine Transport.

The johnboat operated by Stumo did not alter course or adjust speed, Fogarty said, and the boat was plowed under the port bow corner of the rake barge.

“Our towboat had the full attention of everyone in the area except the driver of the johnboat,” Harris said.

As the towboat slowed, the johnboat resurfaced, and the towboat Johanna, owned by W.A. Ellis Construction, the company Stumo worked for, immediately responded to the incident.

The Johanna crew came alongside the johnboat and righted it, and found Stumo in the cabin. Workers took the victim to shore and performed CPR until emergency responders arrived.

Lt. David Tiefenbrunn of the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department said the department was notified of the incident at 0933. Tiefenbrunn in December said the incident remained under investigation.

Stumo was taken to a local hospital, where he died the next morning.

Fogarty said that while the Coast Guard investigation is ongoing, it might not be possible to fully understand what happened on the river.

Fogarty said the actual cause of death was determined to be a heart attack and speculated Stumo may have suffered a heart attack while operating the johnboat.

“That may be why he did not alter course or speed and did not respond to the whistles,” Fogarty said. “Also, the Jennie Dehmer may have been hidden from sight by the oval-shaped bridge piers and it’s possible he did not see the vessel.”

Fogarty said the crew of Jennie Dehmer “took all appropriate action” in trying to avoid the collision.

By Professional Mariner Staff