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Child, 3, Injured In Boating Accident

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A 3-year-old is child is in the hospital with a serious head injury after an accident on a central Minnesota lake.

It was about 7:15 p.m. Tuesday when the 911 call came in for the accident on Lake Stella near Darwin, according to the Meeker County Sheriff’s Office.

Investigators there said boat was pulling an inflatable tube with a woman and three little kids under the age of 5 on it.

Meanwhile, Tony Leske, 31 of Stewart, and his brother Timothy Vanhove, 39 of Dassel, were pulling their fishing boat away from their dock.

“I happened to notice off to the right hand side of us, this boat was coming, he didn’t appear to be looking at us and we yelled,” said Leske.

The Meeker County Sheriff’s Office said the driver of the boat, Joseph James Ziegler, 34 of Litchfield, quickly turned to avoid crashing into another boat but the tube’s collision was unavoidable.

“After the boat swing out, we seen the tube coming, and there was really not a whole lot you can do because it’s just a matter of a second, you know??” said Leske, who said he immediately called 911. “A couple of the kids, they were you know, screaming and stuff. My brother got the one into the dad’s boat there and started doing CPR on her. I knew it was serious. As soon as I seen her laying there in the water, you know? She wasn’t breathing right away.”

The 3-and-a-half year old child was flown to Hennepin County Medical Center with a life-threatening head injury. A 5-year-old child had minor non-life threatening injuries and the woman, Jolene Kay Hoepner, 29 of Dassel and another 3-year-old child were not hurt.

Neither of the drivers or passengers in the boats were hurt.

The Meeker County Sheriff’s Office said alcohol was not involved in the crash and everyone was wearing life preservers. Sheriff Jeff Norlin said he’s investigating a few main concerns, how many people were on the tube and if the children old enough to handle that type of activity. They are also looking into whether the sun at that time of night was a factor and into the attentiveness of both boat drivers.

Leske also said he wonders if the other boat was too close to shore.

“I just wish they had been out a little farther,” he said. But as a father himself, Leske said right now he’s focused on a greater worry.

“Our family prayers are with that little girl. She needs a few prayers,” said Leske.