Montgomery chief's nephew may be dead

September 14, 1994|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer

Police searching the Chesapeake Bay yesterday did not find the nephew of Montgomery County Executive Neal Potter, who is presumed dead after a hit-and-run boating accident last weekend that claimed the life of Mr. Potter's sister-in-law.

John Surrick, a spokesman for the Maryland Natural Resources Police, said searchers were using boats and helicopters to canvass a 70-square-mile area of the bay between Plum Point in Calvert County, the mouth of the Choptank River and Tilghman Island.

Police said they believed that Mr. Potter's nephew, Michael Donner, 50, of Fairfax, Va., is dead. Mr. Surrick said the search will continue the body is recovered.

On Sunday, the Coast Guard recovered the body of Mr. Donner's mother, Jane Donner-Sweeney, 79, of Royal Oak in Talbot County. The state medical examiner's office has ruled her death an accidental drowning.

"It's been a bad weekend," said Mr. Potter, who was running for a seat on the Montgomery County Council. The primary election was yesterday. "It's been very upsetting. I haven't done much on the election in the last couple of days."

Mr. Potter said it has been a trying time for the family. Ms. Donner-Sweeney's husband, Vincent, died 2 1/2 weeks ago of brain cancer. "We were just beginning to recover from that when this comes along," he said.

Ms. Donner-Sweeney and her son apparently left Royal Oak on Saturday afternoon or evening in a 19-foot Boston whaler, headed for Harrison's Chesapeake House restaurant on Tilghman Island, where they had a dinner reservation for 8:30 p.m.

The restaurant owner, Buddy Harrison, said Ms. Donner-Sweeney and her son had dinner and left between 9:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Mr. Surrick said investigators believe the accident occurred late Saturday or early Sunday between Bloody Point and the mouth of the Choptank River.

A passing boater found the vessel Sunday morning 10 miles from that location off Plum Point. Police said the capsized vessel had a 2-by-4-foot hole in the bottom of the hull and was found in full throttle.

"Our investigators believe that the damage indicates that the boat was hit by another boat," Mr. Surrick said, adding that hit-and-run boating accidents are rare.

He said the lights on the damaged boat were being tested.

"That just boggles my mind," Mr. Harrison said. "It seems that any boat that would hit another boat would stop, unless it was involved in some illicit activity.

Mr. Potter said investigators told him that the vessel being sought may be a high-speed boat that was racing up the bay.

"I think it's highly irresponsible to drive a boat like that at night," he said. "The driver apparently didn't see the lights or he didn't pay any attention to them."

Mr. Surrick said police have no leads in their search for the boat involved in the accident. Anyone with information is asked to call DNR at (800) 628-9944.

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