1 killed, 2 held in boat rage episode
BY AMY MAYRON
It's a place where hundreds of people tie up their boats on Lake Minnetonka for a little fun and camaraderie.
But all was not congenial Friday night at Cruisers' Cove near Big Island when two strangers got into a fistfight in an incident authorities said was sparked by an episode of "boat rage." One man ended up thrown in the water and run over by a boat. The person suspected of tossing and running him over remained in Hennepin County Jail on Saturday on suspicion of murder.
As if that wasn't enough, rescuers met with resistance from other boaters as they attempted to find the man in the water late Friday.
"There were less-than-cooperative boaters who hampered our efforts because they wouldn't move because they didn't want to lose their spot for the fireworks," said Capt. Bill Chandler of the Hennepin County Sheriff's Water Patrol. "It's pretty disappointing that someone would think fireworks was more important than another person's life."
Shortly before midnight, more than four hours after the man was tossed into the lake, they found the body of a 31-year-old Mound man. Authorities did not release his name Saturday pending notification of his next of kin, but relatives said it was Ryan Nustad.
Anthony Lee Zemke, 37, of Minnetonka remained in Hennepin County Jail on Saturday on suspicion of murder pending formal charges Monday. Police also arrested a passenger in his boat, 34-year-old Jeffrey Ewald Walen of Plymouth, for helping to throw Nustad into the water. He was released pending charges, Chandler said.
According to authorities, sometime before 7:30 p.m., Nustad became angry when Zemke's boat either collided with his boat while trying to leave Cruisers' Cove or caused too much wake. "We believe the victim was the first aggressor," Chandler said.
Zemke and Nustad got into a physical fight and then Zemke and Walen threw Nustad into the water, Chandler said. Zemke then put his boat into gear and left, driving over Nustad, he said.
Investigators were trying to determine whether Zemke intended to drive over Nustad. Hennepin County medical examiners ruled that he died of blunt force injuries.
Zemke and Walen were found later docked at a local bar and arrested.
Alcohol was a factor in the incident, authorities said.
Cruisers' Cove is an area near Lake Minnetonka's Big Island where hundreds of boaters tie their boats together to socialize. Drinking is often involved, Chandler said.
Deputies have had trouble in the past trying to get boaters to cooperate when they need to search for someone, but it has never been quite as serious or urgent as it was Friday night, Chandler said.
On Friday, up to 25 deputies in six rescue boats yelled through bullhorns to get boaters to move, but they would not budge. Because so many boats were moving in and out of the area and would not follow authorities' directions, divers could not get into the water to look for Nustad. Rescuers also tried using sonar equipment, but it was not as effective as it should have been because of all the traffic.
Deputies could have arrested and cited boaters for not cooperating with them, but Chandler said it was more important at the moment to spend the time searching for Nustad.
"You give that up to save people," he said.
Jule Hannaford of the Minnetonka Yacht Club and a seasoned sailor was shocked that boaters would not move when the water patrol was searching for Nustad's body.
"What's more important? A night of boating or somebody's life?" Hannaford said.
Hannaford said that about 100 boats are always docked in that area because it's sunny and isolated.
"Most people I know would've moved; I would've moved and done anything to help," he said. "I find this incident incredible."
On the Mississippi River in Ramsey County, water patrol seldom has problems with boaters cooperating with search efforts, said Sheriff's Office spokesman Mark Naylon. A lengthy search was under way Friday night and throughout Saturday for a missing 1-year-old and both recreational boaters and commercial barge operators were very agreeable to moving and following no-wake restrictions, he said.
At Lake Minnetonka, sheriff's deputies seized both boats after the incident and were searching them for evidence Saturday. Investigators had interviewed some witnesses Friday but others would not give statements because they didn't want to be disturbed during the fireworks, Chandler said. Deputies were looking for other witnesses Saturday. Anyone with information about the incident should call the sheriff's Water Patrol at 952-471-1300.
Being out on the lake was a way of life for Nustad. "He loved to fish," his father, Rich Nustad of Grand Rapids, Minn., said. Nustad, a Mound High School graduate, worked for Niccum Dock Inc. on Lake Minnetonka installing boat docks. He was in the process of buying a piece of the business, his father said. "He just loved the lake."
Friends and relatives described him as a friendly, easy-going guy. "He was very personable, easy to get to know," Rich Nustad said. "I don't know of anybody who disliked him."
In addition to his father, Nustad is survived by his mother, Val Nustad of Chaska and an older brother Ross.