Safe at home: Onalaska teenagers survive boat crash near La Crosse’s Riverside Park

Onalaska man arrested for driving a boat under the influence after hitting another boat with four teenagers inside

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – Four Onalaska teenagers are safe at home after a boat crash near Riverside Park. Police arrested an Onalaska man for driving under the influence.

Four bases connect to form a diamond. Four Onalaska teenagers are connected to form a brotherhood. Maddox Hoff, Mason Manglitz and Bryce Hoeft graduated from Onalaska High School this year. However, their graduation celebration almost didn’t happen.

“It was really more of a celebration of life because, what could have happened,” said Mason’s dad, Kent Manglitz.

Two Saturdays ago, a time out on the water turned into a moment ingrained into their memories.

“We started the day with a baseball game in Westby,” Mason said. “Yeah, that’s kind of the lead-up to it.”

A boat traveling at a high speed smashed into Mason’s boat.

“That’s where the story turns,” Hoeft said.

Mason struggled to find the words to describe the crash, saying, “Yeah. It just takes your breath away — heart stops for a second. Boat comes right behind. Hits the front of this.”

Griffin Schultz’s quick thinking perhaps saved his friends from traumatic injuries.

“The boat was coming over the top of us. I stood up and pushed it over,” Schultz said.

Onalaska resident Jesse Burkhardt drove the boat that hit Mason and his friends. La Crosse County court records show the Wisconsin DNR ticketed Burkhardt for operating a motorboat while under the influence of alcohol.

“It seemed like he didn’t know what he was doing on the boat,” Hoeft said. “Right after the accident, didn’t really check who’s okay, he kinda went after his dog and then didn’t know how to shut off the motor which was still running in our boat.”

Court records also show Burkhardt has a history of OWI-related incidents behind the wheel of a car.

“Luckily we were all fine,” Schultz said.

The Wisconsin DNR recorded more than 100 boating-related incidents out on the water before August of last year, 22 people lost their lives. That’s the worst year since 2017 when 25 people lost their lives.

“The prop was just spinning in here,” Mason said in describing the crash.

The boat is the only one with a severe physical scar.

“Right, yes. The boat can be fixed,” Mason said.

The crash was harder to process for Mason’s dad.

“Yeah, a lot. A lot of hugs,” Kent said. “Yeah, I play that through my head of what could have happened.”

This moment is a reminder of the immense responsibility boaters possess.

“Just use common sense when you’re on the water,” Kent said.

Schultz had one message for boaters.

“Don’t drink and drive, simple as that,” he said.

All it takes is one time to change someone’s whole family forever.

“Life can just end like that, just in a second,” Mason said.

This time everyone made it all the way home, safe.

“It wasn’t their time,” Kent said. “God has bigger plans for them.”

These lifelong friends connection remains strong.

“Just brings us closer for sure,” Maddox Hoff said.

Kent said there’s a greater appreciation for his family and friends.

“To give them all a hug at one time was a great feeling,” he said.

Not every incident on the water happens because of alcohol. New boaters need to familiarize themselves with the rules out on the water. Officials recommend boaters have a plan in place in case there is an emergency. It is also good to know what the weather will be like before venturing out on a boat.

For Wisconsin boating regulations and information click here. For Minnesota boating regulations and information click here.