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Santa Rosa wakeboarder dies after Lake Sonoma accident

A Santa Rosa man has died of injuries he received in a weekend wakeboarding accident on Lake Sonoma, authorities said Friday.

Brian Allan Edwards, 32, died Thursday night after falling off his board four days earlier.

The driver of the boat, lifelong friend Andrew Scheff, 30, of Reseda, was arrested at the scene on suspicion of boating while intoxicated, causing injury. At his first court appearance Friday, prosecutors announced Edwards had died and asked for more time to investigate.

On Sunday, the day of the accident, Janet Folk looked out from her post at the Lake Sonoma marina and realized trouble was about to unfold.

A boat carrying six people, including an injured wakeboarder, raced toward the docks, its occupants signaling for help.

Folk, the marina manager, dropped what she was doing and ran out to meet them.

On board she found Edwards, unconscious but still breathing. His friends told her he was hit on the head with his own wakeboard while doing a jump and passed out after swimming back to the boat.

They lifted Edwards onto the dock and called 911. As they waited for emergency crews to arrive, the unconscious man’s girlfriend knelt by his side.

“She was talking to him saying, ‘Come on. Keep breathing,’” Folk said of the Sunday afternoon accident. “‘Stay with me. Don’t go away.’”

Edwards never came to. He was flown by helicopter to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and died of his injuries Thursday night.

The accident was reported Sunday at about 7:55 p.m. The Sheriff’s Office said Scheff was pulling Edwards on the lake near Dry Creek at about 20 mph when Edwards fell off his wakeboard.

At the time, witnesses said Edwards was jumping into the air over the boat’s wake, arching his back and curling his legs behind him in a “scorpion” position, said Capt. James Tovani of the Geyserville Fire Protection District.

The board, which has a hard edge, appeared to hit him in the head as he came down into the water on his chest, Tovani said.

Edwards was able to swim back to the boat but passed out minutes later after complaining of back pain. He also had a two-inch laceration on his head, Tovani said.

“The way it was described to me by the passengers, he hyper-extended his back,” Tovani said. “His legs and his feet bent behind him all the way to the point where the wakeboard hit him in the head. That’s probably what caused his injuries.”

His friends rushed him to the marina.

“I saw them pull up,” Folk said. “I knew it was serious. No one comes in that hot unless it is an emergency.”

Edwards was placed on his side on the dock. Geyserville firefighters arrived within 12 minutes, records show. The sheriff’s marine unit and the Army Corps of Engineers also responded.

The accident came at the end of a busy summer day in which the sheriff’s helicopter was called to assist in a near-drowning.

Tovani said Edwards was breathing with a strong pulse. He was still unconscious when he was flown by REACH to Santa Rosa to undergo surgery, the captain said.

He said deputies told him Scheff and his passengers had all been drinking. But he said they appeared sober at the marina. Breath testing showed Scheff had consumed about twice the 0.08 percent legal limit allowed to operate a boat, Sgt. Cecile Focha said.

Marina manager Folk said it is not uncommon for lake visitors to be charged with drinking and boating. It happens about once every weekend, and becomes especially dangerous when temperatures reach triple digits and boaters become dehydrated, she said.

Wakeboarding has been around for about 20 years and has eclipsed water skiing in popularity, Folk said. Wakeboarders are pulled behind boats on long ropes and become airborne as they pass over waves.

Injuries happen when people hit the water too hard, she said.

“When you come off a board at 20 mph it is like hitting concrete,” she said. “It doesn’t give.”

It was not clear if Scheff, who was free on bail, would face additional charges when he returns Aug. 17.

Deputy District Attorney Robert Maddock said he would look to see if alcohol impairment was a direct contributor to Edwards’ death or if it was caused by something unrelated or accidental. An autopsy is planned for Monday.

“Anytime there’s a death involved, we do a thorough investigation to get all the facts before we make a decision,” Maddock said.

Scheff declined to comment as he left the courthouse. His lawyer, Jeffrey Vallens of Sherman Oaks, said Scheff and Edwards were lifelong friends.

“This case is an absolute tragedy,” Vallens said. “Our hearts go out to the family.”

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 707-568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com.

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