The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s investigation into the boating accident that led to the drowning death of angler Nicholas Kayler at Lake Okeechobee during a FLW Series tournament in January has concluded with the agency finding no probable cause to file criminal charges against boater Bill Kisiah.
“Based on evidence and information gathered to date, Mr. Kisiah penetrated a wave with his vessel as he navigated inclement weather/water conditions,” the report stated. “During the accident, Mr. Kayler was ejected from the vessel and subsequently drowned in Lake Okeechobee.
“Information also supports Mr. Kisiah made a good faith effort to find and retrieve Mr. Kayler immediately following the accident,” the report continued. “The engine diagnostics confirmed an error occurred that was capable of a complete shut-down, which left only the trolling motor to power the vessel through high wind and waves. The recovered GPS and engine data did not indicate the vessel was operated in a careless or reckless manner.”
The seven-page FWC report on the Jan. 4 accident, released Wednesday, included a statement from Kisiah about the accident as well as diagrams depicting where the accident occurred and maps reflecting the boat’s location after the accident, using data taken from the on-board GPS unit.
According to the report, Kisiah and Kayler departed the boat ramp at C. Scott Driver Park at approximately 7:20 a.m. as boat number 183 on day 1 of the tournament. With Kayler seated in the passenger seat, Kisiah proceeded “through a shallow path on the west side of Kings Bar, before attempting a direct course to South Bay,” the report stated.
The course took Kisiah’s 2017 Ranger across the middle of Okeechobee, but high winds caused rough water conditions as the boat approached the center of the lake. The report listed wind conditions as over 25 mph.
According to Kisiah’s statement in the report, the boat “penetrated a large wave while in open water.” Kisiah said he was traveling at approximately 15 to 20 mph.
“The force of the water entering (the boat) caused Mr. Kayler to be ejected. Mr. Kisiah made a 180 degree turn toward Mr. Kayler. Shortly after completing the turn, the gasoline engine lost power and could not be restarted.”
With Kayler still in sight, Kisiah then deployed the trolling motor, but fell overboard. Upon re-entering the boat, he attempted to operate the trolling motor again, but could no longer see Kayler.
“During this time, the vessel continued to take on water from waves,” the report continued. “Mr. Kisiah feared being separated from his vessel again, so he used the kill switch lanyard to secure himself to the trolling motor bracket while he searched for Mr. Kayler. The wind and waves were more than the trolling motor could overcome. At an unknown time later, the trolling motor lost power, leaving Mr. Kayler without rescue and Mr. Kisiah adrift.”
Check in for the final flight of boat was completed at approximately 5:05 p.m. when tournament director Bill Taylor was alerted that boat 183 had not arrived yet. A search and rescue mission comprised of several agencies was initiated to locate the individuals.
Kisiah, 51, who lives in Slidell, La., remained on the boat until it became lodged against the rocks near the Pahokee Marina in the southeastern corner of the lake that night. According to the report, he was discovered at approximately 10:45 p.m. by a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy in a parking area wearing a weather suit and a Type-V inflatable PFD. He was later treated for hypothermia and dehydration.
The boat was found shortly after and all exterior damage was considered to be post-accident as a result of its prolonged impact with the rocky shoreline.
An extensive search for Kayler, a 38-year-old who resided in Apopka, Fla., continued from the air and by water over the next six days. His body was recovered on Jan. 10 by a commercial fisherman near Clewiston. An autopsy performed by the Lee County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Kayler’s drowning death an accident with environmental exposure as a contributing factor.
According to the report, the air temperature on Jan. 4 was 43 degrees and the water temperature was 52 degrees.