Troopers say ill-fated Father's Day incident involved stolen boat

Devin Kelly

Update, 1:40 p.m. Thursday: The story of a father and son who fought aboard a grounded fishing boat in the Gulf of Alaska and had to be rescued by the Coast Guard and Alaska State Troopers earlier this week took another turn Wednesday, when troopers arrested and charged James B. Miller with first-degree watercraft theft, a felony, and boating under the influence of alcohol. 

The theft charge stemmed from the discovery by troopers the two men had permission to stay on the boat, but not to take it out on the water, said Beth Ipsen, troopers spokeswoman.

Troopers also arrested and charged Miller’s father, James F. Miller, with count of felony assault, one count of boating under the influence and one count of first-degree criminal mischief.

Both men were arraigned Thursday morning at the Cordova courthouse. They are each being held at the Cordova city jail on $5,000 bail. 

Original story: The evening apparently began pleasantly enough, with a father and son sharing dinner and drinks for Father's Day on a fishing boat in Cordova.

But troopers say it eventually spiraled into a two-day episode involving the boat's grounding off Hinchinbrook Island, a major argument between the two men and a rescue effort involving both the Coast Guard and Alaska State Troopers.

The events began unfolding on Sunday, after the father and son from Spokane, Washington, both named James Miller, had spent Father's Day together, including dinner and drinks on the 26-foot fishing vessel Chugach, according to troopers spokeswoman Beth Ipsen. The two men then decided to take the boat out into the Gulf of Alaska, Ipsen said.

But around 4 a.m. on Monday, the boat grounded near Fish Bay on the east end of Hinchinbrook Island. And a fight apparently erupted between the two men, who had been drinking, according to troopers. "After the altercation, the younger Miller told his dad to get off the boat," troopers wrote in a Wednesday dispatch.

The father, 49-year-old James F. Miller, did just that, Ipsen said, disembarking from the beached vessel and walking into the woods on Hinchinbrook Island.

After the fight, the younger Miller, 28-year-old James B. Miller, "passed out," Ipsen said, and woke up around 10 a.m. Monday to find the boat high and dry.

"Later in the day as the tide was rising Miller texted his dad to return to the boat or he would leave him behind," troopers wrote.

The elder Miller didn't answer because he didn't have cell reception, Ipsen said. As the tide came in, the boat re-floated and apparently began to take on water on its engine compartment, she said.

At that point, the younger Miller made a distress call to the Coast Guard and called 911. The Coast Guard responded by deploying a C-130 aircraft from Kodiak and an HH-60J Jayhawk helicopter from Cordova. A small boat also launched, but it never reached the search area because of choppy conditions on the water.

The helicopter crew found the boat with the younger Miller on board and returned him to Cordova by about 9 p.m. After being interviewed by a trooper, he was sent to Cordova Community Medical Center to be treated for "severe back pain," troopers said. The helicopter then turned back to conduct an air search for Miller's dad, but the strong winds turned the aircraft away.

On Tuesday morning, the helicopter and three Cordova-based wildlife troopers launched an aerial and ground search for the elder Miller.

After about an hour, he was found safe in a private cabin about 8 miles from where the fishing boat ran aground, Ipsen said. The night before, he had apparently slept under a tarp he found in the woods, Ipsen said.

When he found the cabin, "there were some people living there, and he asked, 'OK, where's the road back to Cordova?' " Ipsen said. "That's when he was told, 'You're on an island.'"

The elder Miller was taken to Cordova, and the boat has since been recovered, Ipsen said.

"There's a saying that alcohol and boats don't mix," Ipsen said. "We're just glad that neither one of these men were injured."