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Archive for Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Recreation risks

A fatal boat collision at Perry Lake re-emphasizes the need to properly enforce safe boating laws.

August 13, 2003

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The photo in Sunday's Journal-World of a motorboat on top of a houseboat at Perry Lake dramatically told the story of a tragic accident that killed one person and sent two to the hospital.

The cause of the accident isn't yet clear, but it seems unlikely that two boats, both being responsibly operated in a cautious and lawful, manner would end up in the position portrayed in the photo.

A 57-year-old Mission woman was on the front of the houseboat when it was struck, and she was killed. The boat reportedly was idle, but not anchored, about a half-mile from the Perry Marina docks. It was just outside an area where boats are required to slow their engines and reduce their wakes.

The motorboat that landed on top of the houseboat was occupied by a woman and three men, ranging in age from 19 to 22. The four suffered minor bumps and bruises in the collision. Many questions about the crash remain.

For instance, investigators were trying to determine whether either boat had its lights on, as required by law. Was the motorboat going too fast? Was the houseboat drifting in an unsafe area? Was alcohol involved? Whatever the cause, it seems that more stringent adherence to safe boating rules might possibly have avoided a tragic accident.

Although alcohol hasn't been connected to last weekend's accident, the combination of boats and alcohol obviously can create a hazard. While it's unlawful for operators of land vehicles to have an open container of alcohol in the car or truck, it's not illegal for boat operators to drink as long as they are not intoxicated. Any number of other careless behaviors also can result in a tragic situation on a public lake.

One frequent visitor to Perry Lake reported to the Journal-World that it's not unusual for reckless boat operators to endanger swimmers and other boaters. It's also not unusual, she noted, to be unable to find any law enforcement authority to whom to report an incident.

Large reservoirs, like Clinton and Perry Lakes, were created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to control flooding and provide water storage, but offering recreation opportunities to lake visitors is another key component of their mission. If limited enforcement capabilities make the lakes a dangerous place to boat, fish and swim, they are failing in that goal.

The photo of a speedboat lying on a houseboat is enough to make any lake visitor think twice about his or her own safety on the water. It also should be enough to get the attention of those responsible for enforcing measures that maintain a safe atmosphere for boaters and swimmers at public lakes.

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