The Union Recorder

July 3, 2013

DNR: BUI and boating crash last weekend

Kyle Collins
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — The Georgia Department of Natural Resources saw one boating under the influence (BUI), a two-boat collision and several citations during Operation Dry Water last weekend.

The boat accident happened early Sunday around 4 a.m. near the Sinclair Marina portion of Lake Sinclair, according to DNR Cpl. Josh Copelan.

The crash involved a bass boat and pontoon boat.

“A bass boat struck the pontoon boat from behind but was able to veer at the last minute and not tear up the Pontoon too bad,” Copelan said. “It did partially sink the pontoon.” 

Authorities towed the vessel to Little River Park. 

The bass boat driver, Steven Clay, suffered fractured ribs and a punctured lung. Copelan said as of Sunday night, Clay was still under medical observation.

Pontoon operator Joe Smallwood went to the hospital with neck and back pain. Smallwood was treated and released later Sunday evening.

No charges were filed as the event is still under investigation.

“We are going to follow through with the investigation and go from there,” Copelan said. 

With BUI still a major factor in accidents and deaths on national waterways, thousands of officers with local, state and federal agencies teamed up for Operation Dry Water June 28-30 in a coordinated effort to provide heightened enforcement and awareness about the dangers of drinking and boating leading up to the Fourth of July. 

Although the state recently lowered the permitted boating blood alcohol concentration (BAC) from .10 to .08 for a BUI conviction, the problem persists, according to Copelan.

There were 13 BUI arrests on Lake Sinclair during 2012. Copelan said another weekend arrest bumps the 2013 total to 10 at this early point.

The 10th BUI arrest resulted from a vessel stop due to a skier without a spotter. 

Copelan said DNR rangers wrote several citations for 100-foot wake violations.

Through Fourth of July, DNR rangers will concentrate patrols on Lake Sinclair areas notorious for BUI arrests maintaining a consistent presence. Copelan said DNR brought a helicopter down for Sinclair patrols during Operation Dry Water.

Lake-goers could see an air presence again over the Independence Day weekend as well.

“It worked out well. If most folks don’t see our boat in the water, they don’t pay attention to what’s overlooking them,” Copelan said. “We have an officer than can make the call just as well as I can on the water. We might try it again this July Fourth weekend.”

DNR wants lake visitors to understand they are going to see a lot more rangers than usual this weekend. Copelan said enforcement helps increase safety for everyone.

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