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Boy Radioes Sos From Parked Boat

Wed., July 3, 1996

An 11-year-old boy kept rescuers busy for hours by radioing fake distress calls from a boat parked in his grandfather’s driveway, authorities said.

Donald Zubkoff could face charges for telling authorities Monday that the boat was sinking in Lake Erie and his 5-year-old brother had gone overboard, authorities said.

“This kid kept it up for 2-1/2 hours,” said harbor patrol Officer Kathy Cherry. “He said he was out by Turtle Island, he was taking on water, his 5-year-old brother was overboard. He even said if the Coast Guard didn’t come out and rescue him, his parents were going to be really mad.”

The U.S. Coast Guard, the Toledo police harbor patrol and civilian boaters spent about five hours searching the lake after they got the distress call Monday.

Authorities finally tracked the caller using a telephone number the boy had given to contact relatives.

Donald was broadcasting on the marine distress channel from a 21-foot boat on a trailer in a driveway on a city street, the Coast Guard said.

Harbor patrol Sgt. Phillip King said Zubkoff could face a misdemeanor false alarm charge and a federal charge of giving a false distress call.

Donald’s family also may be billed for gas and personnel used in the search.

Coast Guard and harbor patrol officers started trying to track the signal using radio directional finders. A Coast Guard helicopter pinpointed the broadcast to within two miles of its origin.

But “as soon as the helicopter showed up, the transmissions stopped,” Coast Guard Petty Officer Mark Lawrence said.

Officers going back through their notes from the bogus broadcasts finally found a clue. Cherry said radio operators had asked the boy for a phone number to contact family and he initially gave his correct number.

“But then he corrected himself, saying, ‘Oh, that’s a bad number,”’ she said. “When we called it, he answered the phone.”

Not wanting to tip the boy off, police asked if he had ordered a pizza. When he said no, they said there had been a mistake and asked for his address.

“He was smart. He didn’t give us the address, but he did give us the street,” Cherry said.

When officers pulled in the driveway, he was inside the boat, she said.

The boy’s family could not be reached for comment; the only Zubkoff listed in Toledo had a non-published number.



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