As the FLW Tour event on Lewis Smith Lake came to a close on Sunday afternoon, professional angler John Cox experienced every angler’s worst nightmare. He was involved in a single-boat accident while operating an FLW-issued Ranger boat equipped with a 250-horsepower Evinrude outboard.
We spoke with the parties involved, including FLW tournament staff.
“I was just poking along, moving between pockets as I waited for some spawners to move into one of my primary areas,” Cox said. “I was running somewhere between 40 and 50 miles per hour—I wasn’t driving recklessly whatsoever—and I began to slowly steer to the left and the entire boat turned a 180 and ejected my Marshall and me into the lake.”
The force threw his marshall, 2014 Forrest Wood Cup co-angler Champion Brian New—who had just suffered a broken collarbone weeks ago while becoming pinned underneath a car while changing its oil—into Cox, sending both individuals into the 52-degree water.
“When we went into the lake, the boat just kept going and turning circles,” Cox said. “I was wearing my kill switch and it did shut the motor off immediately, but I guess the momentum from the accident caused the boat to keep going for a bit. It could have been much worse had I not been wearing a kill switch.”
Cox recalls something, although he’s not exactly sure what, hitting him in the head which knocked him out for a brief moment.
“When I came to, I was curled up on the bottom of the lake in 10 feet of water,” Cox said. “Neither of our PFDs inflated. I immediately pushed off of the bottom of the lake and came to the surface, along with Brian. To be honest, the PFD failure might have saved our lives in this particular instance because I surfaced right next to the engine, which was not running thankfully. But in no way whatsoever am I suggesting not to wear a PFD when you’re operating a boat. This was a freak accident and we were both extremely blessed and lucky.”
The day after the accident, it’s safe to say that Cox has certainly felt better.
“To be honest man, I feel really bad,” Cox said. “I’m hurting. I felt okay when I left the hospital because I got some shots in my rear end. I was even making plans last night to go fishing today (Monday). But when I got up this morning, I realized I can barely turn my head. I was pretty much spaced-out for about 6 hours after the accident. I don’t know if it was shock or what. But I’ll tell you what—I have two weeks before I fish the Bassmaster Southern Open on the Alabama River and I won’t touch a fishing rod. I’m taking it easy. I have to get healed up.”
While in the shower, he realized his injuries could have been much worse.
“When the accident happened, I was wearing a Gore-Tex rainsuit, snow pants, blue jeans and thermals,” Cox said. “I actually have what appears to me a prop or skeg mark on my inner thigh that’s roughly 8 inches long. I’m glad I was wearing so many layers because it didn’t break the skin. It just left an enormous bruise. I’m interested to go back and look at my outer layer to see what exactly happened.”
According to FLW’s Director of Public Relations, Joseph Opager, the FLW staff is going to great lengths to test the boat involved in the incident. It will not be back in the tournament fleet until everything checks out mechanically.
“When the accident happened, Cox and New climbed back into the boat and slowly idled to the nearest access where they were immediately picked up by FLW crew,” Opager said. “Both the individuals and the boat were taken to the launch site of the tournament. The boat was trailered to FLW offices in Benton, Kentucky on Monday morning and extensively tested by FLW employee Chris Hoover on nearby Kentucky Lake. He ran the boat at high and low speeds and performed several steering tests. Everything operated flawlessly. Our tournament director Bill Taylor will be personally using the boat for the next few weeks and if no issues occur, the boat will be returned to the FLW fleet for use in upcoming tournaments.”