Investigators are trying to determine whether Saturday's collision between a barge and a fishing boat that killed two people might have been the result of neglect or equipment failure.

After a grueling four-day search, rescue workers recovered the body of Soddy-Daisy resident Richard Wilkey, 42, Tuesday morning, floating near the Tennessee River's east bank. His body was about a mile from where a nine-barge load pushed by a tugboat collided with his fishing boat.

The accident also claimed the life of Tim Spidle, 45, of Elizabethton, Tenn.

David "Chris" Wilkey, 37, Mr. Wilkey's nephew, was aboard the fishing boat and survived.

The recovery of Richard Wilkey's body leads to both "closure and the beginning of more questions," said Tony Reavley, chief of field services for Hamilton County Emergency Management Services.

The accident involved a commercial vessel, so the U.S. Coast Guard is investigating along with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

According to U.S. Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer John Hoesli, the tugboat operator said he never saw the 15-foot boat carrying the three men. In separate interviews, the operator said a horn never was blown, and the surviving man said he never heard a warning sound.

All boats are required by law to have a sound-signal device to use in the case of approach or emergency, and they are "legally required to take all necessary action to avoid impending collision," said Philip Earhart, a Bradley County wildlife officer and lead investigator working on the case with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

David Wilkey also told investigators that he first saw the barges when they were about 100 yards away.

"He remembers hearing one of the guys say something about not being able to start the boat and needing to jump for it," Mr. Hoesli said.

The men were operating a fishing apparatus with the engine turned off, and Mr. Wilkey said engine trouble prevented the small boat from speeding away.

Investigators may send the boat to a mechanic for an "engine autopsy," Mr. Hoesli said, but it's unclear whether mechanical problems can be verified since the boat's engine was found submerged in water.

"Right now, we can only rely on what the survivor is telling us, eyewitnesswise," he said.

Alcohol and drug tests are pending on both the survivor and the tugboat operator.

Matt Majors, a wildlife and boating officer for the TWRA, said the investigation still is open and a preliminary report should be released in the next 10 days.


The investigation hopes to determine whether the tugboat operator or the fishermen neglected any necessary measures or somehow were limited from doing so. One question involves the issue of a lookout.

According to the Coast Guard navigation rules, "All vessels are responsible for maintaining a proper look-out at all times -- this includes one-man crews, unmanned crafts, and recreational boats."

The only exemption, Mr. Hoesli said, is if a boat has an unrestricted 360-degree view of all surroundings. He doubts the 647-foot-long tugboat meets that criteria.

"Since the tugboat operator said he didn't see anything and there was no horn, the question becomes, 'Did you have a lookout there?'" Mr. Hoesli said.


U.S. Coast Guard investigators encourage any witnesses to Saturday's boating accident to call Chattanooga police at 423-698-2525.

Exactly what caused the crash cannot be confirmed until all eyewitness accounts are recorded and both boats forensically examined, officials said.

"We basically need to put every detail of the accident back together," Mr. Earhart said. "We have to see everything that happened before and after impact."

On Tuesday morning, the Wilkey family congregated at the Possum Creek boat ramp after rescue workers brought Richard Wilkey's body ashore and stayed after workers left.

"They're relieved. They're understandably upset, but mainly relieved to have closure," said Hamilton County's Mr. Reavley. "Without fail they've basically said, 'He's gone home now.'"