- Associated Press - Friday, August 14, 2015

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) - Friends and family are in mourning after a small boat crash on a South Florida river left one teen dead and five others injured.

Some gathered for a vigil Thursday night at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, which the teens attended. A second vigil is scheduled for noon Friday at the Fort Lauderdale school.

Classmate Hugo Meyjonade said earlier Thursday that he’s shocked by the death of 17-year-old John M. Baker.

“I’ve known him since we were like 6. We were neighbors and everything,” Meyjonade said. “It’s just crazy to think about it. He’s so young.”

Baker was aboard a small boat carrying six teenagers on a late-night river trip that slammed into a bridge early Thursday. Investigators were working to determine the cause of the one-vessel crash.

The teens had apparently set out on the Middle River in Fort Lauderdale around 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, officials said. Early Thursday, the craft crashed into pilings under a bridge on the south fork of the river, which runs through a residential neighborhood in Fort Lauderdale.

Michael Cooper, who lives near the crash site, said he was getting ready for bed when he heard a “tremendous smack” outside.

“I feel so bad for them and the family. I’m thinking about them. I hope they are OK,” Cooper said.

Three teens were in critical condition and two had minor injuries, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Liz Barraco said. Their names haven’t been released.

Investigators worked through the night to process the scene. By daylight, the boat had been taken away and the scene cleared.

The 13-foot Boston Whaler was not owned by anyone directly related to the teens, but Barraco said they did have permission to use the boat. But officials did not say how the teens knew the owner.

Florida has no age limit for operating a boat, but Barraco said in an email that anyone who was born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, must complete an approved boating safety course and obtain a Boating Safety Education Identification Card issued by the state to operate a motorboat of 10 horsepower or greater. The teen who was operating the boat had a card, but Barraco pointed out that passing the course wouldn’t necessarily mean a person had the ability to operate a particular boat.

“It remains a parent or guardian’s liability to make responsible decisions about allowing a minor child to operate a boat,” Barraco said.

The Fort Lauderdale crash is the second tragedy involving teens and boating this summer in South Florida. Two 14-year-old boys disappeared during a fishing trip in the Atlantic last month. The Coast Guard spent a week looking for Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos. Their families launched a private search for the Tequesta teens, with volunteers scouring waters off Georgia and the Carolinas by helicopter, plane and boat before calling off the search last Saturday.

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Associated Press writers Freida Frisaro and David Fischer in Miami contributed to this report.

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