Witness recounts tragic aftermath of propeller incident that killed 3-year-old boy

Aug 15, 2023, 5:54 PM | Updated: 5:55 pm

SUMMIT COUNTY, Utah — A man who witnessed the emergency response to a fatal boating incident at Echo Reservoir recounted what happened on Sunday.

A spokesman with Utah State Parks said 3-year-old Walter Greer, of Salt Lake City, was killed after he fell off a boat while it was running and was struck by a propeller.

Investigators said he was wearing a life jacket, and no foul play was suspected. They said drugs and alcohol were not involved, and the boaters were water skiing at the time.

3-year-old killed after falling off boat, being hit by propeller at Echo Reservoir

“Everything was normal. Everyone was out on the lake having a good time,” said witness Zach Bear, who was on the water with friends Sunday.

He said dozens of families and friends were there to soak up the last few weekends of summer.

“It’s more peaceful, there’s not a lot of boats on the water,” Bear said.

That peace was interrupted when first responders arrived on the scene.

“We all decided we were going to go home, and right after we showed up to the docking station, that’s when we saw it was a much larger presence,” Bear said. “Fire trucks, ambulance, the medivac flight crew.”

When Bear exited his boat to get his car, he knew something significant happened on the lake.

“Everybody knew it was a tragic thing that had happened,” he said.

A medical helicopter that landed at the Echo Reservoir. (Courtesy: Zach Bear)

Once he got on shore, his heart sank. Bear said his time in the military helped him understand what was happening.

“When we did show up to the docking station, there was a little tent, and then it had a white sheet around it,” he said.

Bear said first responders and park rangers told him a toddler had been hurt.

“I walked out of the ranger station, and it happened to be the family sitting all right there where the benches were at,” he said.

Bear spoke to the Greer family on the shore, offering his condolences to them.

“I had asked one of them if this was all for them, and they had said yes, and they were trying to take it all in,” he said. “I remember saying, ‘I’m so sorry for your loss.'”

Greer’s family said he was enjoying a day on the lake with his parents, two sisters, and friends when he fell off the boat, struck the propeller, and died.

“Wet hair, they had just gotten out of the lake. It just kind of seemed they were trying to take it all in,” Bear said about Greer’s family.

First responders at the scene at Echo Reservoir. (KSL TV)

He said visitors hurried to get off the lake as the scene became very somber.

“Everybody there needed to collect themselves, kind of chaotic,” Bear said.

Bear said he was told some of the first responders were visibly impacted by the situation.

“I think anybody that would see that, especially with a child, would need a little bit to decompress,” he said.

Bear says his heart goes out to the boy’s family.

“I’ll never be able to forget seeing them, and knowing what I know now, it’s got to be very hard for them,” he said.

In a statement to KSL TV, Greer’s family wrote, “We are devastated to be saying goodbye to our darling Walter so unexpectedly. Walter was an absolute joy who loved Spiderman, trains, trucks, and his red boots. We are so blessed to have Walter as a forever part of our family. He is so loved, and we hold his memory close until we meet again.”

A GoFundMe* is online to help with the family’s funeral and counseling expenses.

*KSL TV does not assure that the money deposited to the account will be applied for the benefit of the persons named as beneficiaries. If you are considering a deposit to the account, you should consult your own advisors and otherwise proceed at your own risk.

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Witness recounts tragic aftermath of propeller incident that killed 3-year-old boy