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'The worst day of my life': Suspected drunk boater crashes into raft, injuring 4 children on Meramec River

William Dull, 9, is recovering after he was airlifted to St. Louis Children's Hospital with serious injuries

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Mo. — Nine-year-old William Dull was in good spirits Wednesday morning at St. Louis Children’s Hospital — a completely different picture from three days prior, when he was pulled from the Meramec River.

He, his parents and his two brothers had been on a float trip with a group of family and friends Sunday afternoon when a boat came rocketing downstream.

“He was full speed,” said Sarah Dull, William's mother. “I didn’t even know fishing boats could go that fast.”

The driver, a 25-year-old man suspected of boating while intoxicated, had left the wheel unattended to stand at the back of his boat, the Missouri State Highway Patrol said.

All the family could do was watch as the boat neared impact. 

“I told everyone to hold on, but there was nothing we could do to get out of the way," Dull said. "I just couldn’t keep my kids safe and that’s hard to stomach as a mom.”

The boat struck near the left side of their raft, throwing William, his father and his 12-year-old brother into the deep water.

William was unconscious in the water after the crash, Dull said. The only thing that kept him afloat was his life vest, which just earlier he had been complaining about having to wear.

“I was the mean mom that was like, 'Yeah, you have to wear it,'” she said. She said she now believes that decision helped lessen the injuries of all of her children.

Dull couldn't tell if William was breathing when he was pulled from the water, and his bone was sticking out of his arm.  He was airlifted to Children's Hospital, where he had surgery for his arm and was treated for a spleen laceration, a bruised lung and a broken rib. 

His brothers were also taken to a hospital in Sullivan. The 12-year-old had moderate injuries and the 7-year-old was more shaken up than anything, Dull said. A fourth boy who was with the group had also been in the water near the crash and was treated at the scene for minor injuries.

William had a plate and six screws placed in his arm. "It’s not good when the orthopaedist says his bones were in two different zip codes," Dull said.

He's now awake and alert and has been quickly recovering. He started physical therapy on Tuesday and Dull said he might even be discharged later Wednesday.

"His smile when the doctor said, 'Do you want to go home?' he was like 'Yeah!' He is such a trooper."

The uninjured boat driver was arrested and cited for boating while intoxicated; he was booked at the Franklin County Adult Detention Facility, where he was later released. 5 On Your Side is not naming him because he has not yet been formally charged.

"In his defense, he didn’t try to leave," Dull said. "He felt awful."

Dull said it brings tears to her eyes to think of the family, friends, bystanders and first responders who have helped her family through the chaos.

“This was the worst day of my life and all these people have helped make this less horrific," she said.

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