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Body found during search for man missing after Lake Houston boat crash

HOUSTON – After three days of searching murky waters in Lake Houston, police said they found the body of a man they believe to be the missing person from Saturday's boat crash.

Friends and the man's fiancee identified the missing person over the weekend as 48-year-old Jeremy Niesen.

"They say that it is him. I don't know. I just can't think right now," said Shirley Espiritu, Niesen's fiance. "Medical examiner has got the body. Going to take it downtown Houston and they're going to call me when they get downtown with the body so I can come up there to identify it."

Espiritu said she had faith Niesen was still alive, but broke down when Houston police notified her that they found a body Monday afternoon.

The Houston Police Department said around 2:17 p.m. on Saturday, two men and a dog on an aluminum boat crashed head-on into a fiberglass boat that was carrying a man and a woman.

"It appears that whenever the vessels (were) coming toward each other, they both tried to avoid each other by turning the same direction, and this caused basically almost a head-on collision," said Officer Alvin Steelman, with the Houston Police Department.

Robert Ray, 47, owns the boat he and Jeremy were on. He said they were breaking in the boat's new motor. Ray was taken to the hospital with broken ribs and bruises after the crash.

"As we come upon the other boat, I cut left, in towards the bank. The other guy cut right and turned right back into my path and that's when we hit," said Ray, who said he was heading east on his boat. "I asked the man, 'What the hell were you thinking, man?' I said, 'I cut into the bank because my boat will run shallower than yours.'"

Police haven't said how fast the boats were going, but Ray said he was going about 26 mph because he was trying to break in his motor.

The collision was so powerful, it knocked him, his dog Jack and Niesen off the boat. Ray said there were life vests on the boat, but they were not wearing them.

"I bounced and all I remember is being under water and the only way I could find my way up, because the water was so murky, is blew bubbles and saw they went up and I went that way the bubbles went," said Ray. "I could remember seeing the side of the boat and I didn't see where my buddy went. I don't know where he went. I don't know where my dog went."

On Monday morning, Houston police recovered Jack, Ray's Jack Russell terrier, from nearby the crash site.

The 14-year-old dog originally belonged to Ray's father, who died in January.

"He loved me to death. He slept in the room with me. He was a good companion. Everywhere I went, he had to go," said Ray about his dog. "He loved me to death, and I loved him. He was my buddy."

Jack had been in Niesen's lap at the time of the crash, according to Ray.

Several hours after finding the dog's body, Houston police said they found Niesen's body, about 20 feet from it.

Police haven't released the names of the people in the other boat, but Ray said it was a man and a woman.

The Houston Fire Department said over the weekend that the woman, who is 24, was taken to the hospital and was in stable condition.

Officer Steelman said the search was difficult because of the murky water.

"Typically, Lake Houston has a little bit of movement during flooding, but right now there's not much movement so our search area is concentrated in one small area," said Steelman. "The visibility in this water is probably 2 feet at best, so there is basically no visibility. The further down you go, the less visibility you have. So anytime we're searching, it's basically a 'reach out and feel something' search."

On Sunday, the Texas game warden used sonar to search for the missing man, but didn't have any luck.

Police said the blind spot on the curve in Lucy's Bayou, along with speed, could have been a contributing factor to the crash.

"There are violations and, at this point, we're still looking into the exact cause and who was responsible for the accident. So we're still looking into that. That's something that we're doing at this time," said Steelman.

He also believes life jackets could have saved the missing man's life.

"If they were wearing life jackets, they would be floating right now and even if they're unconscious, we would get them out of the water and apply first aid or whatever was needed," said Steelman.

Espiritu said she and Niesen had a common-law marriage, but had planned on having a wedding this year. Close friends of Niesen said they plan on putting a memorial at the crash site in the coming days.

Boating season safety

As the warmer months get closer, Steelman said he's urging boaters, both new and experienced, to brush up on water safety.

"A lot of time, people will get a new vessel or a new boat or watercraft, and they'll get on the lake or the rivers and they don't know how to operate their vessels properly. And in this case, I think that could be a contributing factor. We're still looking into if it's ongoing at this time," said Steelman.

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