Stiffer Penalties For Drunken Boaters
By David Crohn

Inspired in part by the accidental boating death of a girl last summer, New York legislators are close to passing a law that will make BWI offenders face the same penalties as drunk drivers.

The new law, sponsored by state Sen. John Flanagan, R-East Northport, passed the state Senate and is now being considered by the state Assembly.

Flanagan and others have pushed to crack down on drunk boaters since before the August, 2005 accident that took the life of 12-year-old Brianna Lieneck of Deer Park. But after the accident, in which Brianna’s parents and older sister were also critically injured, lawmakers—including Flanagan and Assemblyman Tom DiNapoli (D-Great Neck)—took up the issue with a fresh, grim determination.

“Boating while intoxicated is as serious as driving while intoxicated and the penalties need to reflect that fact,” said Flanagan in a statement. “Summer fun should be carefree and intoxicated boaters infringe on the rights of law-abiding boaters. This legislation would greatly enhance the protection of families and innocent boaters who travel around Long Island all summer long.”

Under the proposed law, the first BWI conviction will be a misdemeanor carrying a sentence of up to one year and a fine of up to $1,000—instead of 90 days and $500 as the law stands now. Second and third convictions within ten years would amount to a felony conviction and up to seven years in prison.

Flanagan and DiNapoli teamed up in 2003 to lower the legal blood alcohol limit for boaters to .08.

Of the 18 fatal boating accidents reported in 2004, nearly a third involved alcohol, according to the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The boater that killed Lieneck, Bay Shore resident Steven Fleischer, had a BWI charge lifted after blood tests showed only a negligible amount of alcohol in his system.

The Lienecks have been an active voice in boating regulation reform since their daughter’s death. They have called for mandatory breathalyzer tests at the scene of an accident and regulations requiring brighter lights for nighttime boating.

Speaking to Newsday in October, 2005, Gina Lieneck, Brianna’s mother, said, “I don’t know what went wrong that night but I’m hoping this legislation will help. Our lives will never be the same, and we don’t want to see this happen to anybody else.”

Recent accident statistics point to the Great South Bay as one of the most dangerous places in Suffolk County to go boating. There were 18 accidents there in 2001, and 14 and 16 in 2002 and 2003, respectively, according to the New York State Parks Department.

Just last Friday afternoon, June 30, a 43-year-old Babylon Village man was killed when his 18 foot boat was struck by a 23-foot boat off of Babylon Cove. Since both the victim and the driver of the craft that hit him were alone at the time of the accident, authorities believe they were experienced drivers.

But, said a Coast Guard spokesman, “That’s an especially tricky area. Very dangerous.”