Fisherman lucky to be alive after boat collides with unknown object

It wasn’t the freezing cold temperatures that disrupted Joseph Fonseca and his son Jamie’s commercial fishing trip on the morning of Jan. 15, but something much worse.

The father and son commercial fishermen were heading back from Lake Cataouchie when their boat struck something buried in the water as they arrived in Sellers Canal. The canal serves as a popular commercial and recreational fishing spot for families, and little did the Fonsecas know that that morning could’ve been their last fishing trip.

“I’m not exactly sure what it was, but I can remember hearing a voice, like an instinct in my ear, whispering ‘watch out,’” Joseph said. “Before I knew what was happening, the motor on the rear of my boat hit whatever that thing was in the water, flew off the back and landed in my boat.

“The propeller cut my left arm as I was steering.”

Joseph’s arm was cut in at least five places, but it’s not the only injury the accident caused. He had a punctured lung, fractured ribs and he was forced overboard. The propeller marks left Joseph with gruesome injuries to his left arm and left his thumb dangling from his hand.

Once Joseph was in the hospital, doctor’s told him that he had also suffered a broken ankle.

The human body contains seven pints of blood and Joseph lost three pints of blood that day. During his operation, the hospital gave him four additional pints of blood.
Joseph says he feels grateful to be alive and credits his son Jamie for getting him help from two men who happened to be on a nearby boat.

Pascale Duran and Tom Candies were fishing that morning when they came across Joseph and Jamie’s familiar faces.

“From a great distance we saw the boat, and as we grew closer I recognized T-Joe (Joseph) and Jamie,” Candies said. “I saw Jamie and then I saw water shoot straight up in the air. I wasn’t sure at first what  T-Joe’s son was waving us down for.”

Candies said he just saw something fly off the boat and assumed it was a slicker suit, but as he and Duran got closer on their boat they realized it was the motor. Jamie told them his father Joseph had fallen overboard and he was preparing to jump in the water.

“My dad told me that if we ever had any incident like this that I should take all my clothes off and jump in the water to save his life or my life,” Jamie said. “I had a lot of clothes on that day because it was cold.”

Jamie says the clothes tend to add weight to a person’s body and makes it difficult to swim. However, as he was preparing to save his father’s life, Candies and Duran made it to the area.  Jamie continued to wave his hands frantically in the air and scream until he got the two boaters attention.

Candies then reached in the water, picked up Joseph and brought him back to Pier 90. Candies says he told jokes to Joseph and gave him water to keep him calm.
“I could feel his flesh and I knew he was in bad shape,” Candies said. “I didn’t want him to know how afraid I was for him that he wasn’t going to make it, so I just tried to keep him calm,” Candies said. “I  told Jamie to call 9-1-1 and the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office responded in less than 15 minutes and did an outstanding job.”

Duran went back for Jamie after making sure Joseph and Candies were safe on the pier. The Fonseca’s boat was sinking and Jamie was doing his best to stay afloat.

“Jamie was too shook up and he couldn’t drive the boat, plus the motor was in the boat and the boat was sinking,” he said. “I hated to leave him there in the first place, but we had to take care of his dad first.”

The Fonseca family is now faced with mounting medical bills. Joseph will need five surgeries and won’t be able to fish for a year.

“My son and I do this together for a living,” Joseph said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do now.”

The Fonseca’s warn residents to steer clear of that area in the bayou.

“We called wildlife and fisheries and the Coast Guard about the spot in the canal,” he said. “Luckily it didn’t take my life, and I hope that no one else gets hurt out there.”
Fonseca’s brother, Leon, says that he’s tired of the battle with Louisiana’s Wildlife and Fisheries Department.

“When my brother Joe got hurt I was devastated,” he said. “I called the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and asked them what they are going to do about the object in the water. Something has to be done, but I was told that it was the Coast Guard’s responsibility.”

Leon says he called the Coast Guard and they put the responsibility back on the shoulders of wildlife and fisheries.

“It’s just ridiculous,” he said. “I’m a commercial fisherman too and I just want to know what that object was that struck my brothers boat and what the state is going to do about it.”

Leon says that someone put up a steel pole with a red flag in the spot where his brother and nephew had their boating accident, but it’s not enough.

“Man, you can’t even see that marker now,” he said. “Bad weather and rain has taken the flag off and bent the pole.”

Jamie says the keeps replaying the incident over and over in his head. He hopes someone acts fast so that no one else has to go through what he went through.

“I have to take anti-depressants now and I’m being treated by a doctor for the nightmares,” he said. “Somebody needs to do something about that area before someone dies.”

The Fonseca family would like to thank everyone for their prayers and especially their two heroes, Duran and Candies, for saving their father and brother’s life.


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