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KOSCUISKO COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) – Three years ago, on a sunny evening on Lake Wawasee, tragedy struck when a young man tubing with two friends went down before being run over and killed by the boat pulling the trio along the water.
Kevin M. Kelley, now 65, of Indianapolis, was driving the pontoon boat at the time of the accident, around 6 p.m. on Aug. 8, 2020.
More than a year later, Kosciusko County prosecutors charged him with a Level 5 felony count of reckless homicide in connection with the death of 20-year-old Indiana University student Nathaniel Mroz.
Kelley’s trial was due to begin this week in Kosciusko Circuit Court.
Since charges were filed in November 2021, though, there have been numerous delays. Kelley’s legal team – he’s retained Indianapolis attorneys Mary Karen Zahn and David Deal – has requested continuances for various hearings several times. The trial date has been changed twice – most recently at Kelley’s request on Aug. 21 – and is now slated to begin on Dec. 5.
WANE 15 reached out to Kelley’s legal team regarding the case, but there has been no response. Kelley has also not returned a message left by WANE 15.
The Kosciusko County Coroner said Mroz’s injuries “were consistent with a sharp object or slicing type injury.”
The investigation determined that the sharp object that struck Mroz was the propeller from Kelley’s boat, according to court documents.
Indiana Department of Natural Resources officers and an evidence technician from the Indiana State Police said in court documents that “Kelley in retrieving the fallen tubers had operated his boat at an unreasonable rate of speed,” and was “careless and in willful disregard of the safety of others,” causing the accident to occur.
Case history indicates that Kelley’s legal team has issued subpoenas for most of the officers from the DNR and the Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Department who responded that evening or were involved in the investigation.
Kelley was operating a Premier Tri-Toon with Suzuki 300 hp outboard, pulling three young men on tubes. In the DNR report, Kelley said he thought only one tuber went in the water, instead of all three, when he circled around to pick him up.
Kelley “was not told by anyone else that all three tubers were in the water,” the report states. He said in the report “No one else saw Nathaniel Mroz in the water prior to the boat striking him.”
En route to picking up what he thought was only one downed tuber, Kelley said he heard a thump. Still, it “wasn’t significant enough for him to think he’d hit something,” he said in court documents.
Once he got to one of the fallen tubers, Kelley stated he noticed something “barely floating” on the water’s surface and realized another tuber was missing.
Once they were back on shore, Mroz was placed on the pier where someone started CPR. Medics arrived shortly after. Mroz was wearing a portable flotation device.
“Kelley stated he went back into the residence due to not being able to watch what was being done on the pier,” the report stated.
Conservation officer Jordan Boggs took the lead in the investigation. In a phone call before getting to the pier, he asked the deputy on the scene to separate all passengers on the boat and conduct a horizontal gaze nystagmus test – otherwise known as a field sobriety test – on Kelley. Boggs was told the boat operator “had left the scene and the victim was on the pier with CPR in progress,” the DNR report said.
Arriving at Kelley’s home on North Ogden Drive where Mroz was taken, Boggs took Kelley to Kosciusko Community Hospital in Warsaw. Kelley told Boggs he’d only consumed water and a blood test came back negative for ethanol, the indicator for alcohol.
However, the report states that “alcohol was involved.”
“Apparently, Kelley was pulling two tubes with three riders. During the course of this activity, it was discovered that all of the tubers had fallen into the water near the same time,” court documents said.
“Kelley admitted that when he was retrieving the tubers, he failed to observe that one of the fallen riders, Nathaniel Mroz, was directly in the path of the moving boat. He then ran over Nathaniel Mroz.”
One of the other tubers said in court documents he saw Mroz “waving his arms as a safety measure for boaters to be aware of his presence in the water just prior to being struck by Kelley’s boat.”
In the DNR report, one of the tubers said he saw Mroz waving his hands and he saw “the pontoon go over the top of Mroz.”
The same tuber said prior to the incident, when another tuber would fall off the tube, Kelly “would sometimes get close to him in the water with the boat while picking him up.”
One passenger on Kelley’s boat at the time of the accident that killed Mroz said in documents that “the water was rough and wavy due to the high traffic and the boat was going very fast” when his three friends were being towed and all fell into the water.
Kelley told investigators that he doesn’t let “the kids” operate the Tri-Toon on Lake Wawasee on a busy Saturday because “you have to watch out for boats while pulling the tubes and after someone goes into the water.”
Kelley said boat traffic was heavy and waves were high the day Mroz died. He said he was a seasoned boat operator and had owned a lake house on Lake Webster before he moved.
With all the boating activities that take place in Indiana, accidents do occur. Last year, there were 69 accidents, 31 of them with injuries and 12 of those were fatalities, according to DNR. In 2020, when Mroz was killed, there were eight fatalities.
Kelley’s DNR records indicate he already had three boating violations.
In May 2010, he was cited for having occupants on the gunwale, or edge of the hull, at Lake Webster. In July 2010, Kelley was given another citation for violating the idle speed near shorelines at Lake Webster.
In June 2012, he was cited citation on Lake Webster for violating the allowed speed at night.
Kelley, who quickly bonded out of jail upon his arrest two years ago, is not due in court again until Nov. 16 for a scheduled pretrial conference.
If convicted of the charge against him, he faces between one to six years behind bars.