FL- By Gary Taylor, Sentinel Staff Writer
Scott and Stephanie Moeller loved spending their weekends on boating trips shared with friends.
But early Sunday, in the cabin of their boat moored in the Silver Glen Springs Run off Lake George in Lake County, the west Orange County couple died in their sleep, apparent victims of carbon-monoxide poisoning.
Their deaths came as the couple, married for about two years, were building their dream home on Lake Sheen, just north of Walt Disney World. They were just starting to share with friends that they hoped to have children once the new home was finished.
“This house was a big deal for them,” said neighbor and fellow boating enthusiast Richard A. Taylor, who was renting the couple a house next door to his own on Lake Sheen while they were building their own home one lot down.
“They would have been neighbors for 30 more years,” Taylor said, just hours after the couple’s bodies were found just a few feet from where his own boat was moored.
Taylor’s circle of friends, all of whom share a love for boating and enjoy cookouts and socializing, has grown over the years to more than two dozen people. They usually get together, eight to 10 at a time, which was the case Saturday when five couples launched their boats near DeLand for the trip to Silver Glen Springs Run.
They moored their boats about 5 p.m., but after dinner, two of the boats returned to DeLand. The other three couples socialized until about midnight before they retired for the night on their own boats, each of which had a generator running to provide air conditioning.
There were at least 50 boats in the runovernight, but the others were at least 50 feet away, Taylor said.
It wasn’t unusual that Scott Moeller, 36, and Stephanie, 35, were nowhere to be seen as the other couples readied their boats for the trip back to DeLand on Sunday morning.
“They were always late getting up,” Taylor said.
One member of the group knocked on their cabin door once but then decided to let them sleep. When the generator ran out of gasoline about 10 a.m., Taylor expected the couple to come out. When they didn’t, another member of group opened the door and found their bodies.
Emergency workers, who pronounced the couple dead at 10:37 a.m., found a high concentration of carbon monoxide when they entered the cabin, said Lt. Joy Hill of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Autopsies will be performed today, she said.
U.S. Coast Guard boating statistics for 2003 — the most recent available — show just seven of the 703 boating deaths nationwide were blamed on carbon-monoxide poisoning.
More people died in Florida boating accidents than in any other state in 2003, but none of the 64 deaths in Florida that year was caused by carbon monoxide.
The Moellers’ boat, a 23-foot Chaparral cabin cruiser, was a 2000 model that they have used many times on overnight trips with no problems, Taylor said.
State investigators are trying to determine how the gas entered the cabin of the boat and whether it came from that boat’s generator or from one of the other two boats.
“The gas is odorless and colorless,” Mike Fischer, an investigator with the wildlife commission, said in a news release. “It poisons its victims, and they don’t even know it is happening if they are asleep.
“In fact, someone can get carbon-monoxide poisoning on an open deck or ski platform because of the way the exhaust fumes are vented at the back of the boat.”