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1 Dead, 3 Are Missing in Boat Accident

Castaic Lake: All but one of the men are employees who were testing out a new model that capsized.

January 12, 2002|HECTOR BECERRA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rescuers recovered one body and searched hours Friday night for three others after a high-performance family boat the men were testing capsized in Castaic Lake, authorities said.

All but one of the men were employees of High Torque Marine, an Agua Dulce, Calif., company that specializes in building and selling high-speed boats.

Los Angeles County lifeguards recovered the body of Ken Lane, 41, of La Crescenta about 2 p.m., almost immediately after the boat flipped. He was the firm's engine builder, according to a company official.

"We do understand that they were traveling at high speed in a speedboat, but we don't know yet if that's why they capsized," said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Brenda Cambra.

Missing are Steve Coulombe, 38, of Agua Dulce, the company's owner; Nelson Ray Brinkman, 30, an assistant engine builder from Phelan; and Chuck Wiseman, 47, a customer and friend of Coulombe.

The county dive team arrived about 8 p.m. and began searching the 300,000-acre lake, which is about 30 miles north of Los Angeles.

The boat had "just came out of the mold about three or four weeks ago," said Roy Ayers, a company design engineer and manager.

"Steve would never hand a boat to a person that was untested," he said. "He was known for making sure that anything produced by him was fully tested, certified and safe for a family to get in."

Ayers described the boat as fast, about 30 feet long with amenities such as a stateroom bed and a DVD player.

"I'd compare it to, say, the Corvette of boats," Ayers said. Although fast, it's not the kind of boat--large as it is--that he thought would have this kind of accident, he said.

"This was very unexpected," Ayers said. "This was more like a family boat."

Coulombe and the others probably had gone to the lake to see if the vessel needed to be fine-tuned, Ayers said. Coulombe was proud of the craft, he said.

"Steve said, 'This boat is beautiful. We got another winner in our hands. People won't believe how great it is,' " Ayers recalled.

High Torque Marine has about 25 employees and has been in operation about six years, Ayers said.

"We're a very tightknit group," he said.

He described Coulombe and Lane as "two people who talked motor talk. Both were motorheads."

Coulombe was married and had two daughters, 12 and 8, Ayers said. He described him as affable, with an infectious personality that lent itself to making easy friends.

Brinkman had visited the company with a customer several years ago, was between jobs, and was recruited as an employee, eventually becoming an assistant engine builder, Ayers said.

"He was very anxious to learn," Ayers said.

Wiseman was a customer who became a fan of the company's boats after buying one, Ayers said.

He owned Mr. Pump, a concrete foundation company, and Creative Works, a subcontracting company, both in Castaic. Dave Johnson, who has worked for Wiseman for two years, said his boss owns a $100,000 single-engine boat like the twin-engine one that crashed and that the two men had ridden it at up to 80 mph.

"Boating was his hobby. If he could find two hours to get away during the day, this is where you'd find him."

Gary Allen, vice president of Friends of Castaic, said Wiseman has been a volunteer with the Love Ride, a motorcycle ride for charity, and other events at the lake for years.

Mr. Pump has about 20 employees, most of whom went to the scene.

"We're all just waiting, hoping the divers come up with something," Allen said. "We've been bummed out all day and want to at least be here when they bring him up."

*

Times staff writer Zanto Peabody contributed to this report.

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