Mystery death story headed for big screen

Story of tragic boat accident in 1964 on Hayden Lake to be made into a movie

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This Feb. 2, 1992, story in The Press looked back on the 1982 recovery of a boat and two bodies from the bottom of Hayden Lake following a 1964 boat accident.

Pete Peterson's story has been told before, but now it's destined for the big screen.

This spring, crews will arrive in North Idaho to begin work on "Hayden Lake," an independent film written by Las Vegas-based author Jack Sheehan.

"We're looking at starting principal photography in April, and pre-production in May," Sheehan said. "We definitely want to shoot the pivotal scenes on Hayden Lake."

Like all good movies, the tale will have its heroes, and even a small dose of adventure. It is a story of both tragedy and vindication.

Peterson was 15 years old on Aug. 15, 1964. He was a fun-loving, outgoing kid who liked to race around Hayden Lake in his Tollycraft jet boat, and that night he took a girl out for a ride. It was dark on the water, around 10 p.m.

There was a violent collision, a loud explosion, and Peterson flew through the windshield. Another small boat had slammed into the Tollycraft, and two 16-year-old girls had died.

Peterson and his friend were slightly injured, but the emotional damage was far greater.

"Basically after that, (I) kind of just got shunned from Hayden Lake," recalled Peterson, now 61 and living in Spokane Valley. "There was talk about charges being brought against me, but that never happened."

The people of Hayden Lake blamed Peterson for the accident. He was that daredevil kid, the one always zipping across the water in that jet boat. It was all his fault, they decided. It had to be.

"Everybody thought I was kind of a hellion," Peterson said.

There was no way to change their minds, no way to prove his innocence. Hayden Lake was no longer a friendly place.

Peterson grew up, finished high school and fought in Vietnam. He tried to move on, but he could never really forget.

Years went by. Then, in 1982, local SCUBA diver Tom Michalski and then-journalist Ric Clarke discovered Peterson's jet boat, still lying 170 feet below the surface of Hayden Lake. They also found the bodies of the two young girls, which had not been recovered.

"At the time, I was diving almost every weekend with Tom on different adventures," said Clarke, now the ski school director at Lookout Pass. "I knew that people would be fascinated with the fact the boat had been found. Each time there was a new development, the interest would build more and more locally."

The two men did more than locate an old boat - they also discovered irrefutable evidence that proved Peterson was not at fault in the collision.

A piece of the girls' boat - part of the bow - was lodged in the left front side of the jet boat, indicating Peterson's Tollycraft had been rammed. Also, the throttle on the smaller boat had evidently gotten stuck on a loose screw, which prevented the girls from throttling back and slowing down.

"When we found the evidence that exonerated him, I had to call (Peterson)," Clarke said. "It had been awhile since I'd talked to him (they had been friends in high school). And when I told him we found the boat, he was just speechless. There was just silence on the other end. I could tell how that affected him, even though we were just talking on the telephone."

Clarke reported the whole story in The Coeur d'Alene Press. In 1992, when ABC-TV was considering a television movie about Peterson, Clarke wrote two more features, including a first-person account of his adventures with Michalski.

"I felt that I'd been vindicated a little bit," Peterson recalled. "Obviously, it was a great relief. But in the end, there's two girls that are still dead, and nothing will ever change that. Nobody was at fault. It was a tragic accident. I still get a little teary about it sometimes. But I guess in the end it's still kind of a remarkable story, that this got resolved 18 years later."

The upcoming movie will be filmed largely in Hayden Lake and Spokane. Ryan Page is the producer/director, and a company called Twinkle Cash Productions will create the film.

Sheehan, a childhood friend of Peterson's, said he wrote the "Hayden Lake" screenplay in 1987, and sold it to Warner Brothers in 1989.

But the project fell through.

"This movie was always destined to be done by an independent film company," Sheehan said. "I never felt that Warner Brothers really got what my story was about."

It was actually Page's father who contacted Sheehan about resurrecting the screenplay and finally crafting a film. Now "Hayden Lake" is nearing fruition.

"I think it's really exciting, because it is a remarkable story, and if they make it into a film, it can be shared with so many more people," Clarke said.

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