Kyle Williams didn’t make it to age 13. A few months before that milestone birthday in 2004, he was killed when the personal watercraft on which he was a passenger was struck by another personal watercraft driven by a youngster at Lake Eufaula.
This year, Rachel Swetnam and Trey Varner, both 21, were killed when the boat in which they were riding struck an unoccupied house boat on Grand Lake. Investigators said excessive speed, alcohol and operator inattention contributed. The man operating the boat reportedly had consumed 10 beers that day.
Following the Williams fatality, the Legislature passed a law requiring children ages 12 to 16 to take a boater safety class before operating Jet Skis and other motorized watercraft. Completing the class, which is free, doesn’t guarantee that young people won’t get badly hurt or killed on the water. Still, it helps make lakes safer for them and everyone else.
Lawmakers have shown no interest in doing something similar regarding adult behavior. As a result, on this July 4 weekend, just like every big weekend on Oklahoma lakes, Lake Patrol troopers will stay busy trying to find boaters who’ve had too much to drink.
Adults may drink while operating a vessel on Oklahoma lakes and rivers, provided their blood alcohol content is below .08. Any drinking by a motorist would result in a visit to jail, of course, but efforts to bring the rules of the road to the lake have consistently been thrown overboard by lawmakers. Consequently, the majority of drownings and fatal boating accidents in the state will continue to involve alcohol.
Through the years, the Lake Patrol has requested stronger laws regarding boating under the influence. Perhaps someday it will succeed. For now, Oklahomans are encouraged to have fun responsibly during this extended weekend and beware of those who don’t.