Boating Death Likely an Accident

In the Clutch passed the Montauk breakwater on Monday under the jurisdiction of the Suffolk County Police Marine Division. Doug Kuntz Photos

    The drowning of a New York City woman off Montauk Point over the weekend is still under investigation, but so far, signs indicate that her fall from the boat she was on with her husband was accidental, according to the head of the Suffolk County Homicide squad, Detective Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick.

    The couple, Ninive Petrocelli, 40, and John Petrocelli, 54, had sailed the 45-foot Carver pilothouse cruiser In the Clutch out of Montauk Harbor at sunset on Saturday and had anchored about two miles northeast of Montauk Point. According to Coast Guard Petty Officer Joshua Garsik, who was on duty that night, “the wind was blowing 10 to 12 knots. The seas were not too choppy, about three feet.”

    The Perseid meteor shower was nearing its peak that night and the couple were in a perfect spot to watch it, with no man-made lights around them and no moonlight.

    “That night it was clear as day,” Officer Garsik said yesterday. “You could see every star.”

    Mr. Petrocelli was in the boat’s pilothouse, according to police, and his wife, who was chilly, went below to fetch a sweater. It was the last time he saw her.

    When an inordinate amount of time passed, Mr. Petrocelli went below. His wife was gone. He thought he heard a scream in the dark water, according to Officer Garsik, and called out but got no response. “He threw several flotation devices” overboard, Detective Fitzpatrick said Tuesday. With the wind blowing, “he couldn’t be sure if he was hearing something in the water. The Coast Guard was there in 13 minutes,” the detective said.

    The spot where the couple was anchored had a strong current.

    “When you’re on a boat out there, on an anchor, anything that goes into the water is gone,” said Senior Chief James Walter, the officer in charge at the Montauk Coast Guard Station.

    Ms. Petrocelli was not a good swimmer, her husband told police, and she was not wearing a life jacket. “She could doggie paddle,” Detective Fitzpatrick said.

    The Coast Guard quickly involved the East Hampton Town Police Department and Marine Patrol. Fishing boats from Montauk joined the search at daybreak, and Coast Guard helicopters from Cape Cod scoured the area.

    At about 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Ms. Petrocelli’s body was found by a fishing vessel about three miles south of Montauk Point. It had drifted about five miles in less than 12 hours.

    The detectives from both the town and the county became involved.

    According to Detective Fitzpatrick, a fatal boat accident is treated in the same manner as a fatal car crash.

    Mr. Petrocelli was interviewed by the police, and left the next day to make funeral arrangements. Detective Fitzpatrick said the couple’s relationship was a “strong one,” a conclusion detectives reached after interviewing several family members.

    “There is no obvious criminality here,” the detective said. However, as with a car crash, every detail of the vehicle, or in this case, the vessel, involved is checked, until the cause of death can be determined.

    Suffolk County detectives took possession of the boat from the Montauk Coast Guard Station on Tuesday morning. The starboard motor was out. They sailed it to another location to continue the examination. “Probably Timber Point, by Fire Island,” Chief Walter said.

Members of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department stood by In the Clutch at the Montauk Coast Guard Station as several agencies investigated a woman’s drowning death after falling from the boat.