By Gordon Woodworth, Chronicle News Editor
The investigation into the July 25 boat collision on Lake George that killed 8-year-old Charlotte McCue was jump-started by the alert observations of an off-duty police officer vacationing with his fiancée at Tea Island Resort.
Warren County Sheriff Bud York said Timothy Turnbull, a patrol officer with the Cheektowaga Police Department, “did a phenomenal job.
“He provided us with the boat [identification and location] within a half-hour of the accident. We might still be looking for the boat had he not been there.
“He’s a police officer and he had good instincts and he called us and he told us that he heard them plotting after they got off the boat. ‘No texting. Don’t tell anybody anything,’ He figured something was up. That’s why he called us.”
Sheriff York called Mr. Turnbull’s assistance “huge. If he hadn’t found the boat, we wouldn’t have known so quickly who it was registered to, and we wouldn’t have known where to go to find the people in the boat.”
Reached by telephone on Monday of this week, Mr. Turnbull, 44, said he and his fiancée Sarah Abraham arrived at Tea Island Resort “that very day. We got to Lake George at 6:30, went out to dinner, and got back to our room and settled in.
“At about 9 p.m. or a little after, we went down to the lake. At Tea Island Resort, there’s a little beach and a sun deck that sits over the boat slips. It has tables and big lawn chairs that you can recline in.
“We were each in a lawn chair when a boat pulled up with its lights off, very slow and quiet. “We heard someone say, ‘Park it here. Park it here.’
“They can’t see us because it’s pretty dark, but we can see them. One of them was saying ‘Shush, be quiet.’ One girl said ‘Nobody say anything to anybody. No text messages, no social media.’
“One of them said, ‘I don’t know what’s going on.’ They continued to get out of the boat, and they argued about whether to bring the beer and the beer cooler with them. Then they put the cover on the boat, and one of the girls noticed us.
“She yelled, ‘Everyone shut up! Not another word!’ And the male put on a hoodie and zipped it up so we couldn’t see his face. Then they walked up the hill.
“When they were out of sight, I decided to go to my room and call the Warren County Sheriff’s Office. We didn’t know there was an accident or anything.
“So I called and said, ‘I’ve got a dumb question. Are you looking for someone on the water right now?’
“The dispatcher was very serious and said, ‘Why are you asking that?’ I then told them what I saw, and gave her the boat registration number, and she said, ‘Sir, I need your location right now.’
“Within minutes, the Tea Island Resort was flooded with police, State Police and Sheriff’s officers.”
Mr. Turnbull said a Lake George Park Commission boat arrived shortly after he made the call.
Sheriff York said Joe Johns and Angelo Paccione of the Park Commission “pulled up just after he called. They were right there. They did a great job.
“They were down at Million Dollar Beach waiting to see if someone was trying to take a boat out of the water. They were starting the search right there.”
Mr. Turnbull said of the officers, “I could see they were devastated. They meant business. They wanted to find these people.”
Mr. Turnbull, in his 13th year with the Cheektowaga Police Department, said, “I was so impressed with the police work that was done. Within hours, they had all of those kids. I was extremely impressed.”
He said he gave a statement to an investigator and showed officers with a K-9 unit where he saw the occupants of the boat onshore.
Mr. Turnbull said he and his fiancée remain deeply affected by the accident.
“We’re grieving and we were just bystanders,” he said. “…Our hearts are breaking. Sarah was crying today. We had been to Lake George before, but I wish I didn’t have to tell this story.”
Mr. Turnbull agreed to The Chronicle’s request to email a photo of him and Ms. Abraham but wrote, “Please understand. We do not want this to be about us. We are grieving so badly for Charlotte and her family.”
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