City of Cleveland III


City of Cleveland III

Deadly Collision On Lake Huron


By James Donahue


Capt. Rudolph J. Kiessling told a board of inquiry that he usually ran the passenger boat City of Cleveland III a few miles out of the normal traffic lanes. He explained that the Cleveland was a fast boat and he was always afraid it would overrun slower-moving freighters going in the same direction.


Some people thought Kiessling might have taken his command a little too far off the normal track on Sunday, June 25, 1950, when he put it on a collision course with the upbound Norwegian freighter Ravnefjneel on Lake Huron, just off Harbor Beach.


Four people died when the Ravnefjneel slid out of the fog and rammed the Cleveland's port side, near the stern, at 6:16 a.m. All of the dead and injured were on the Cleveland, which was carrying 89 men on an annual Benton Harbor Chamber of Commerce cruise. They were bound for Detroit to attend a Detroit-New York baseball game that afternoon.


Killed were Benton Harbor Police Chief Alvin Boyd; Merwyn Stouck, the city's former mayor and president of the Lockway-Stouck Paper Co.; Louis Patitucci, owner of a South Bend frozen food company; and Frank Skelly, a Benton Harbor automobile dealer.


Several other passengers were injured as they were tossed from their beds from the shock of the collision. Some were hurled bodily through windows. At least one of the dead men, Merwyn Stouck, tumbled from the deck into the water.


Friends said Stouck was in the habit of taking a morning walk and was on the deck when the Cleveland was struck. The force of the crash threw him over the rail. He was pulled alive from the water, but died a few hours later in Harbor Beach Hospital.


Passenger Dr. C. J. Oceran said the cruise seemed to have been jinxed from the start. He said the boat was in fog from the time it left port on Thursday. It spent two days wandering on Lake Michigan and waiting for the fog to lift.


Captain Kiessling came under severe criticism for the way in which he operated the ship. Chief boatswain's mate Kenneth Call, commander of the Harbor Beach Coast Guard station, said the crew of the Ravnefjneel told him the freighter's radar tracked the Cleveland at four miles offshore. But Call said the rules required southbound vessels to travel ten miles away from the shore at that point.


The Ravnefjneel was on a correct course for northbound boats at four miles offshore.


Ironically, the owners of the Cleveland III removed the boat's radar equipment that season. The Federal Communications Commission had declared the type of radar the boat carried as substandard. It was not replaced.


During the hearings it also was learned that Kiessling was running his boat at almost top speed, at 16 miles per hour, through fog. Officials said he violated Pilot Rule 13 that required all vessels to slow to bare steerage way when a fog signal was received.


Kiessling said he heard the signal from the freighter, but thought the vessel was heading south in the same direction as the Cleveland. He said from his own calculations, he believed he was in the southbound lane and was at least 10 miles offshore.


The Ravnefjneel was not severely damaged in the collision and was able to complete its trip to Milwaukee.


Even though the Cleveland proceeded to Detroit under her own power after the accident, the boat never sailed a gain. It remained tied up at Detroit, and later Windsor, Ontario. Then during a storm in June, 1953, the Cleveland was wrenched loose from her moorings. The vessel floated off on the Detroit River and grounded at Hennepin Point.


The wreck was sold to Carl Ventimiglia, who planned to convert it for use as a crane barge. While workers were preparing to dismantle the boat in Windsor, it caught fire and burned to a total loss on Oct. 20, 1954.


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