Police continue to investigate cause of boater’s death

JOSEPH TUMMINELLO PHOTO | A Riverhead Police boat scans the Sound shoreline in Northville Friday. The sailboat, named Jagular, can be seen in the background being towed.

Authorities are still investigating the death of a 63-year-old Connecticut boater whose body was found in Long Island Sound near Connecticut Friday afternoon, hours after his abandoned sailboat was discovered washed up along the Northville shoreline, officials said.

A Connecticut State Police marine patrol unit recovered the body of Francis Closter III, whom local police said had a history of illness, about 2:30 p.m. — nine hours after his 35-foot sailboat was first spotted by ConocoPhillips fuel terminal workers near Iron Pier Beach.

“We have the [state Department of Environmental Protection] doing a boat accident investigation,” Connecticut State Police Lt. Paul Vance told the News-Review Tuesday. “There appears right now to be no criminal aspect, pending the outcome of the DEP investigation.”

A spokeswoman with the state medical examiner’s office, which is performing an autopsy, said the cause of death is “pending further study,” which Lt. Vance later explained means coroners have ordered toxicology reports to check for any type of drugs or alcohol. “Not to say we think there are any, but at this point nothing has been ruled out,” Lt. Vance said.

After ConocoPhillips workers alerted police about the empty vessel, an “extensive” search was immediately launched from the beach, according to Riverhead Police Lt. Dave Lessard. Town police were joined by personnel from three area fire departments, the U.S. Coast Guard and Suffolk Police, which dispatched helicopters to scan the Sound. Police here called off the search about 9 a.m., as it was determined that if Mr. Closter had gone overboard, that would likely have occurred closer to Connecticut.

“If he went overboard, that’s probably where he went overboard,” Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said about noon Friday. “The GPS shows where he originated, where he was going, and at a point in between the boat was kind of doing circles by the Connecticut River. They’ve also located some other equipment up there.”

Mr. Closter is believed to have suffered from diabetes, Chief Hegermiller said.

His body was recovered from the water, not on a beach or along a shoreline, officials said.

The sailor had left Midway Marina in Haddam, Conn., about 5 p.m. Thursday and was headed for Clinton, Conn., a trip of some 20 miles, about 15 of them on the Connecticut River. The Coast Guard notified Mr. Closter’s spouse about 9 a.m. Friday that the boat had been found unattended off Long Island, Lt. Vance said.

That call was made about 30 minutes after she reported her husband missing, he said.

After finding the boat, called Jagular, ConocoPhillips workers tied it to a pier, where it awaited investigators, Riverhead Police said. It was later towed from the scene.

According to a U.S. Coast Guard press release, the vessel had its “sails up and electronics running” when it was found and “Closter’s wallet and glasses were also found aboard the boat.”

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Joseph Tumminello contributed reporting to this story.