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Investigators: Boater throttled engine before being tossed into river

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RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -- Richmond police and fire crews rescued a man from the James River Tuesday morning.

Crews were at the 4700 block of Old Main Street, near the Boathouse restaurant. The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries said the driver of a boat was taken to the hospital. Investigators also said the boat is new, in working order and had personal flotation devices on board.

A friend of the boat driver said that the driver was in the water for about 45 minutes. Water temperature, according to a fly-fishing expert on scene, was around 43 degrees today.

Initial dispatch calls made were for "a boat going fast with no one on board, unclear if anyone was on it." Another call said that it was unclear "if male was floating or not," and that there was a boat in the water, circling.

Witnesses said the boat circled for about 20 minutes with the engine "wide open."  While the boat circled, witnesses saw the boat driver clinging to a life preserver only feet away.

The driver was pulled from the river safely and taken to St. Mary's Hospital.  Investigators with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries visited him there, and said he's "doing fine."

The boat is brand-new, a fishing boat with an outboard on the back.

Friends of the boat driver tell CBS 6 this was the first time the owner had taken the boat out on the river.

"He called me, I couldn't go this morning, or we both may have been swimming," said Bill Pearsall, who has known the boat's owner for 40 years and came to Ancarrow's Landing to pick up the boat after the rescue.

The investigators who spoke with the boat owner at St. Mary's Hospital said the driver apparently throttled the engine too high, causing him to over compensate, and then fall out of the boat.  The driver was the sole occupant of the vessel.

"[The driver said] he was having issues with the boat, keeping the bow down," said Andrew Campbell, a local fishing guide who met the boat driver on the river prior to the accident.

Campbell said he heard about the accident about an hour after he first met the man, once he returned to dock his own boat.

Pearsall said his friend is a veteran boater and fisherman.  The pair take regular fishing trips on the James River together.  Pearsall said he expects they will continue that tradition again soon.

"I'm sure he'll be back out.  We're supposed to go [fishing] Thursday," said Pearsall.