Fire on Eustace boats under investigation

Matt Bowen, Bishop Eustace boys varsity crew coach, with a burned launch at the Camden County Boathouse on the Cooper River.
Matt Bowen, Bishop Eustace boys varsity crew coach, with a burned launch at the Camden County Boathouse on the Cooper River. (BARBARA BOYER / Staff)
Posted: June 14, 2013

Arson claimed four boats at the Camden County Boathouse in Pennsauken early Wednesday, leaving the crew team of Bishop Eustace Preparatory School partly in ruins.

Head coach Chris De Young said the vandalism would not stop his team when the season resumes in September, even if it means "begging and borrowing" throughout the summer.

"It's devastating," said De Young, who surveyed the damage Wednesday afternoon. Two 16-foot launches were destroyed, leaving one submerged next to the dock on the Cooper River, which is known nationally as a top venue for competitive rowing. Two 24-foot launches were damaged as well.

"The only silver lining we can see in this is that the season is already over," De Young said.

Each launch boat costs several thousand dollars. The more expensive sculls used in regattas can cost more than $70,000. Those were safely locked inside the boathouse.

Still, the Eustace team cannot practice or compete without the launch boats used by the coaches. As a safety precaution, the launches, which throw very little wake, accompany the rowing boats, usually running alongside or behind them.

De Young said the launches are insured and the team will fund-raise if needed.

The Eustace launches were the only ones set ablaze but it was not immediately clear if the school was targeted.

"I did not want to think it was personal," said Matt Bowen, the Eustace boys varsity coach, who was called and sent photos of the damage Wednesday morning before he drove to the docks. "Seeing this, it looks personal."

Pennsauken Lt. Michael Probasco said surveillance cameras captured images of a person on the dock.

"You can see him pouring the gas on the boats," Probasco said. Probasco thinks the launches were randomly targeted and set on fire by gas kept on site.

Initially, firefighters were called about 11 p.m. for a fire inside a construction truck at Route 130 and North Park Drive, near the boathouse, Probasco said.

About midnight, the boats ignited on the river. Authorities on Wednesday discovered charred debris inside a second construction vehicle on Route 130, where it appeared the fire extinguished itself, police said.

Other teams, including the Haddonfield Memorial and Moorestown High School squads, have launches docked on the Cooper River, close to where the Eustace launches were tied up, but they were not damaged. The prep school tied its boats at the far end of the docks, hidden from the road by the boathouse and underbrush.

School officials were at a loss to explain why anyone would attack the team's boats.

"We're a Catholic prep school. I don't think we burn too many bridges," De Young said. "It was just a crazy person."

Outgoing crew captain Phil Kramarski called the fires senseless and aggravating. The team is competitive, he said, but "I don't think there's any rivalry that is that strong."

The blaze is under investigation by local and county authorities. Anyone with information is asked to call Pennsauken detectives at 856-488-0080.


Contact Barbara Boyer at 856-779-3838, bboyer@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @BBBoyer.

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