Jimmy Maxwell's boat sits submerged in the water following the April 2023 crash. [ David Adlerstein | The Times ]
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Apalachicola boat captains charged with vessel homicide

Nearly a year after their boats collided in the Apalachicola River on April 29, 2023, two Apalachicola boat captains have been charged with vessel homicide stemming from the collision.

On April 20, Austin Jarrett Finch, 24, and James Ellis Maxwell, 60, both of Apalachicola, were charged with vessel homicide, a second degree felony, following an investigation by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Each was released on a $20,000 bond.

Vessel homicide is defined as the killing of a human being by the operation of a vessel by another in a reckless manner likely to cause the death of, or great bodily harm to, another. A second degree felony can be punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

The Saturday morning accident one year ago was between a 23-foot Parker vessel piloted by Finch, and a 21-foot K2 Marine, piloted by Maxwell.

Among the four passengers on Maxwell’s boat was Dorsey Metts, 56, from Georgia, who died at the hospital following the accident, and Ruth Diaz, 69, who was transferred by ambulance in critical condition to Bay Medical Center in Panama City, where she later passed away from a tyraumatic brain injury.

Another of the passengers aboard Maxwell’s boat, Jennifer Davis, 34, underwent surgery on her arm in Tallahassee and has been recovering since. A fourth passenger, James Davis, 37, was transported to Weems Memorial Hospital, treated and released.

“It’s about time,” said Suzanne Cummings, Diaz’s younger sister, from her home in Meansville, Georgia Sunday. “My main thought is I want to make sure no other family has to go through what we’ve been through.

“I hope it opens the eyes of other charter boats that serious things can happen and someone’s got to be responsible for it. I want justice for my sister,” she said.

Diaz, who became a nurse following her stint in the Army during the Vietnam era, worked at the Brightmoor Nursing Home in Griffin, Georgia.“She touched so many lives with her kindness, compassion and generosity,” Cummings wrote. “She will be missed by so many people.”

Diaz left behind two daughters, Rachel Clifton of Cocoa Beach, and Robyn McGouirk, of Griffin, Georgia; step daughter Yolanda Hall of Douglasville, Georgia; and six grandchildren.

According to FWC’s initial report, Finch’s boat, which had no passengers aboard, struck Maxwell’s boat on the starboard side just aft of the bow, and continued over the top of the vessel, knocking the center console and the T-top off its mounts.

The collision was not deemed to be alcohol-related, and resulted in an injury to Maxwell.

Onlookers said that the collision took place on a flat the boats were crossing in between Scipio Creek and the Apalachicola River, which is a no-wake zone in front of the houseboats and the Up the Creek restaurant area.

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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