Firefighter killed in St. Johns River powerboat crash was father of 4

3 others hospitalized after powerboats collide Saturday

By Erik Avanier - Reporter, Roxy Tyler - Web producer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The girlfriend of a man killed in Saturday's powerboat crash that sent three others to the hospital said he leaves behind four children and a legacy of public service.

Two powerboats collided while racing on the St. Johns River around 1:50 p.m. during the third race of the day of the P1 Jacksonville Grand Prix powerboat races.   

The man killed was identified by his girlfriend as Mike Salber, 56, who has four children: three sons and a daughter, ages 17, 18, 20 and 22.

Melanie Jeanine has been dating Salber for the past year and a half. She said she was watching the race and saw him crash.

“He always walks away. The fire chief from Cocoa Beach got the fire chief from Jacksonville to drive me to a room. I heard they knew he was gone when they got him. That he died instantly. I got to stay with him until his children got there,” Jeanine said.

The boat that Salber was in shot up into the air then landed on top of him.

"He was in a P-1 boat and they’re not strapped in, so they’re meant to be thrown from the boat. But this was just a freak accident,” Jeanine said.

Salber was a lieutenant paramedic for the Sanford Fire Department, a department that is now mourning his death. He was also an accomplished athlete.

“Mike was larger than life. He lived life to the fullest. He was a world championship water skier, nationally ranked in Motor Cross. He was a Lieutenant in the Sanford Fire Department for 23 years. There was nothing Mike wouldn’t do for anyone,” Jeanine said.

In a couple of days, his body will be released and firefighters from Sanford will take part in a procession back to Orlando. 

Officials with the group operating the race said the boats crashed during the first turn near Memorial Park, with one of the boats flipping over the other. Jacksonville Fire-Rescue took the injured to UF Health Jacksonville.

Video of the crash shows one of the powerboats going airborne before flipping over onto the river. Both of the boats involved in the crash are from Florida, one from Port St. Lucie and the one that overturned in the video was the boat Salber was in, from Orlando. 

The powerboats can reach speeds of up to 75 mph.

Organizers said the powerboat races were shut down for the day. 

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