News

Renton man charged with homicide by watercraft in Lake Washington fatality

The seven passengers aboard a sailboat going 1 or 2 knots on a windless Lake Washington yelled and waved their arms as a 25-foot powerboat bore down on them.

Richard Anthony Hicks, 46, of Renton didn't hear the yelling or see the sailboat until he was too close to avoid a collision at about 10:30 p.m. July 16, county prosecutors write in charging documents.

Just before impact, he swerved to the left and yelled "no lights," his fiancee and mother who were onboard told investigators.

The powerboat went over the starboard rear corner of the sailboat, tossing Seattle school teacher Melissa Protz into the lake. She died of massive injuries to her head and body, according to the King County Medical Examiner's Office.

Hicks, a real-estate agent, was charged Monday with homicide by watercraft and assault by watercraft. Two other passengers on the sailboat, including its operator, were injured.

Bail was originally set at $500,000 but was reduced to $250,000 after one of the passengers was transferred from the intensive-care unit at Harborview Medical Center and the other one released from the hospital.

Hicks was released Tuesday night from the King County Jail in Seattle after posting bail.

Arraignment is 8:30 a.m. Aug. 4 in courtroom 1201 of the King County Courthouse in Seattle.

According to court documents, Seattle Police investigators determined the Renton man was driving at a reckless speed and under the influence of alcohol. He should have known not to operate a motorboat at a high rate of speed because of the likelihood of sailboats and other boats on the water, according to documents.

July 16 was a hot sunny day on Lake Washington. Hicks and his three passengers spent the day on the lake, boating and swimming. They ate dinner at about 7:30 p.m. at Chandler's restaurant in Seattle.

Hick's fiancee told investigators she and Hicks each had one drink while boating and one at the restaurant, according to charging documents.

After dinner, they headed for the boat launch at Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park in Renton. At first, the boat's speed was "fairly slow." Then Hicks sped up so his boat was planing; another boater estimated his speed at 45 mph.

Not far away, about 1,000 feet off Seattle's Leschi neighborhood, the sailboat was slowly making its way to a dock, powered only by an electric trolling motor. It, too, had been on the lake all day; but now the wind was gone. The sailboat did not have working lights or navigation lights, according to charging documents. At a speed of 1 or 2 knots, it would take about an hour to get to shore.

At about 10:36 p.m., Shreedhar Madhavapeddi, who was operating the 22 1/2-foot sailboard and was severely injured in the collision, and his passengers spotted the motorboat.  They yelled but those on the motorboat didn't hear or see them.

After the collision, another boater towed the sailboat to the Leschi fishing pier on Lake Washington Boulevard. The motorboat was towed to shore by a Seattle Police Department Harbor Unit craft.

Hicks denied drinking any alcohol; an officer could smell the odor of alcohol coming from a patrol car and on Hicks' breath, according to charging documents. His eyes were watery and his speech was slurred. Hicks wouldn't submit to field sobriety tests.

He was arrested; a warrant was obtained to test his blood-alcohol level. Midweek, investigators were waiting for the results of the tests.

According to charging documents, Hicks is a "repeat driving under the influence (DUI) offender." Prosecutors list his criminal and traffic history: 1989 negligent driving; 1990 DUI amended to negligent driving; 1991 DUI given a deferred sentence, completed conditions and it was dismissed; 2002 DUI amended to reckless driving; 2011, speeding with two open containers was deferred dismissed, and 2013, speeding amended to inattentive driving. He also has three driving with license suspended convictions and three failures to appear.

Melissa Ann Protz taught sixth- and seventh-grade biology at Assumption-St. Bridget School in Seattle.

Whether she was taking sea water from the ocean or keeping tomorrow's experiment in the staff refrigerator, her main goal was bringing science to her students, according to her obituary.

Her funeral is Wednesday in her hometown of Manitowoc, Wisc.

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.

Read the latest Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Oct 24 edition online now. Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates