An illegal smuggling operation has claimed the life of a man from northern New York. Charles Cole, 20, of Racquette Point, Akwesasne, N.Y., died when two boats collided early Wednesday morning. But six other men survived because of the quick response by the U.S. Border Patrol.
"They heard a collision between two vessels apparently, then some cries for help," said Agent Wade Laughman of the U.S. Border Patrol.
According to investigators, the violent crash occurred near Snake Island on the St. Lawrence River just after midnight Wednesday. One of the boats split in half. A total of six people were rescued from the water-- half of them by border patrol agents who were on routine patrol 300 yards away. The other three were rescued by other first responders. None of them sustained life-threatening injuries. But the body of Charles Cole was recovered from the river about an hour later.
"I think the actions of those agents definitely saved the lives of those individuals, they probably would have drowned; late at night, dark out there, water is cold in the St. Lawrence," Laughman said.
Tribal police announced Thursday one of the boats involved was transporting cases of cigarettes. U.S. Border Patrol agents had spotted the boats prior to the crash, but they were not attempting to stop the boats because there was no indication of illegal activity at the time and the vessels were on the Canadian side of the river. Agents say nighttime travel is common in the area and that routine patrols are needed on the St. Lawrence River around the clock.
"They are out there every night and during the day, basically to just observe cross-border activity, to intercept smugglers, narcotics, humans, aliens, money drugs, you name it," Laughman said.
Police will not say whether Cole was on the boat that was transporting the cigarettes. They also declined to say whether the boats were traveling together or if this was a random accident.
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