Sonoma Valley coach missing, presumed dead, in boating accident

Roger “Deets” Winslow, who led the Sonoma Valley High School wrestling team for more than two decades, was ejected from a speed boat on Lake Berryessa on Saturday.|

Roger “Deets” Winslow, a popular mentor and coach who led the Sonoma Valley High School wrestling team for more than two decades, is missing and presumed dead after he was ejected from a speedboat on Lake Berryessa on Saturday.

Winslow, 49, of Glen Ellen a father of three, was described by friends and family as positive and friendly and who gladly took on a role as a mentor to local kids.

“He was an amazing person who would do anything to help people,” said his brother Travis Winslow, also of Glen Ellen. “He absolutely loved helping kids.”

Winslow was piloting his performance boat along a section of Lake Berryessa called The Narrows with two passengers on board when something caused the boat to rock suddenly in one direction and jerk back in another. The force threw him over the side into the deep water, according to the Napa County Sheriff’s Office. When his passengers circled around to pick him up, they only found signs that he may have been injured.

“From what they told us, they found some indication that he had made contact with the propeller,” said sheriff’s Lt. Pete Berg. “There was evidence of significant injury.”

Winslow, who was described by family members as an experienced boater, was still listed as missing Monday. But after two days of searching for him in water that reaches depths of 170 feet, authorities presumed he had drowned, Berg said.

“I don’t know what you call it,” his mother-in-law, Patricia Sorensen, said. “(It’s) a tragic, freakish accident.”

Winslow, a psychiatric technician at Sonoma Developmental Center, coached the Sonoma Valley high wrestling team for more than 20 years before stepping down recently. He succeeded his father, also named Roger, who led the team for 10 years.

He left Sonoma Valley with a record of 328-74-2, led them to nine league titles and six top-10 finishes at the North Coast Section Championships. His family said Winslow had hoped to coach on the middle school level, perhaps for his younger son Tyler’s school Altimira Middle School.

Winslow lived in Glen Ellen but he and his wife, Heidi, owned a boathouse on the lake, his family said. They have three children, a daughter Kayla, 14, and sons, Tyler, 13, and Jordan, 22, whom he coached at Sonoma Valley. Family said he would go out to the lake whenever he wasn’t coaching or, more often lately, attending one of his kid’s sporting events.

“He was just a small-town guy who lived here his whole life, loved to play softball and to golf,” Travis Winslow said. “But he loved being on the lake more than anything. He was happiest when he was there. And he loved fast boats.”

Winslow’s father, Roger, still lives in Glen Ellen and he has two other siblings – a younger sister, Charise, of Southern California, and other brother, John, who lives in the San Joaquin Valley.

Travis Winslow said his older brother was most at home on the water and bought his first boat at age 19 with money he saved on his own. He was an expert pilot who often worked on the boats himself.

“He was one of those guys who would buy a brand new boat and replace the engine with one he already had in his garage because he could make the boat go faster,” Travis Winslow said. “But he wasn’t reckless. He knew what he was doing and he never took chances.”

Travis Winslow said the two passengers who were with Winslow that day, and who have not been identified, were both good friends. They reported that the boat’s engines had been making a “knocking” sound earlier in the day. At the time of the accident, which occurred at about 6 p.m. Saturday, they told sheriff’s officials and family members that Winslow was driving in a straight line when the boat “suddenly jerked violently in one direction.

“And then it went just as violently in the opposite direction throwing my brother out of the boat,” Travis Winslow said. “I don’t understand how no one else was ejected. It’s unbelievable, thank goodness, that there weren’t more injuries.”

Winslow’s boat was described as a performance vessel made by Eliminator Custom Boats in Riverside County. Built primarily for racing, it had two engines and a pickle fork nose, which is said to improve stability and drag.

Berg said it was unclear what caused the accident. The Sheriff’s Office was investigating the mishap, including whether the jolt that sent Winslow over the side was because of mechanical failure, operator error or some other factor. He said the boat was impounded as part of the investigation. There was alcohol in the boat, but Berg said it was not yet known whether that played a role.

Berg said his office had employed the use of its unmanned robot, called an ROV, that could search depths beyond the reach of divers but could go only 120 feet deep. He had made a mutual aid request to Santa Clara County for the use of its ROV, which can reach to the bottom of the lake.

The search is scheduled to resume today.

But with little hope of finding Winslow alive, a family and community has begun the process of mourning a man who had touched so many lives.

“My brother was a good man who made a difference to a lot of people, especially the kids he coached for more than 20 years,” Travis Winslow said.

Added Sorenson: “There’s a town in mourning.”

You can reach Staff Writer Elizabeth M. Cosin at 521-5276 or Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González can be reached at 521-5458 or

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