Rayner Blair and Bill Edwards racing on Breton Bay. photo from Southern Md Boat Club.


ABELL’S WHARF, MD.  – The Breton Bay boat races drew huge crowds decades ago and a resurgence in interest in the water sport brought about a new race held on July 29, 2018, but ended in tragedy when Charles David Downs, 58, of Leonardtown, was killed after his boat flipped at 80 mph.

Maryland Natural Resources Police report that he was ejected during a Coast Guard-sanctioned event on Breton Bay near Leonardtown. The event was sponsored by the Southern Maryland Boat Club. The investigation is being conducted by the Maryland Natural Resources Police.

Natural Resources Police Spokeswoman Candy Thomson told THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY that this is the fourth fatality at a boat race in Maryland in the last four years.

The two-day event included a regatta on Saturday, July 28th, and the races on Sunday. The Coast Guard closed the waterways on Breton Bay for several miles between Buzzard Point just east of Abell’s Wharf towards Leonardtown.

Downs was traveling at 80 mph when the bow of his 15’ boat raised up too high and caused the small boat to flip end over end and deposited him in the water. Downs was wearing a life-jacket and was retrieved from the water by the fireboat of the Seventh District VFD. Downs was given immediate attention and rushed to MedStar St. Mary’s hospital in critical condition, was stabilized and flown to Washington Hospital Center MedStar where he died after undergoing surgery, reports Thomson.

Charles Downs died in boat race crash on July 29, 2018.
Seventh District fireboat in Breton Bay for Southern Md. Boat Races. Photo courtesy of Seventh District VFD

Seventh District VFD posted this report on Facebook: During the standby this afternoon at the Summer Regatta at Leonardtown Wharf, a single boat accident occurred. Boat 5 immediately responded to the accident scene and one crew member entered the water. The crew utilized the floating stokes basket and hoisted the patient into Boat 5. CPR was initiated by the crew and the patient was transferred to Leonardtown Volunteer Rescue Squad Ambulance 198 who was waiting on the shore to transport to MedStar St. Mary’s.

Downs was well-known and well-thought-of in St. Mary’s County as expressed in the more than 150 persons who posted condolences and prayers to his family on the Facebook page of the Seventh District Volunteer Fire Department.

Downs operated Downs Plumbing & Septic, based in Compton, Md.

Teeny Lawrence and Steven Christman. Video courtesy of Southern Maryland Boat Club. 

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Recent fatal accidents in Maryland at boat races:

Two men were killed in an unsanctioned race on the Potomac River in 2016 when they crashed while zooming down the river at over 200 mph.

Another sanctioned event – Thunder in the Narrows – which was an annual event but ended that in 2015 when a boat raced out of control and into a spectator area of vessels, killing a seven-year-old girl who was a spectator.  The driver was inexperienced and flaws in the boat design led to lawsuits being filed in 2016.

The Department of Natural Resources Police, the Coast Guard and safety crews from the event were on hand when the fatal crash happened, in 2015, killing 7-year-old Julianne Rosela.

From 2016: There is now a lawsuit regarding the deadly Thunder on the Narrows boat race from last summer. One of the boat drivers, racing at 124 mph, lost control and plowed into a spectator area, killing a 7-year-old girl. A lawyer involved in filing the laws

Breton Bay boat race area was closed at Buzzards Point to Leonardtown by the Coast Guard during the event.

Two men were killed in 2016 in the Potomac River south of Washington when their high-powered racing boat flipped over and ejected them as they were taking part in a time trial.

Two dead at the 1966 President’s Cup Speed Boat Race on Potomac River

Abells Wharf landing was near the point in Breton Bay where the Coast Guard closed the waterways for the races to start. THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY photo

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