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BY JIM WAYMER
FLORIDA TODAY



They throttled up for fun, but five people wound up dead on Brevard County waters last year.

A life vest, some moderation or simply slowing down likely could have saved all of them, marine patrol officers said.

That's often the case, an analysis by FLORIDA TODAY and Gannett News Service found. A review of six years of state and federal boat accident reports shows:


Recklessness, carelessness and just not paying attention caused 29 of the 148 accidents in Brevard, about one in every five. One in every four was a crash between two boats, and one in five involved hitting some fixed object in the water, like a dock or a sign.


From 2001 to 2006, at least 1,463 of the more than 4,500 boat accidents statewide were caused by reckless, careless driving or inattentiveness -- about one in three accidents.


Alcohol was the prime factor in fatal accidents statewide, accounting for one in every five deaths. Since 2001, 77 of the 374 boating fatalities in Florida involved alcohol.


Of the 3,507 people who died in boating accidents between 2001 and 2005, about four in five weren't wearing life vests.

State marine patrol officers plan random checks for life vests, speeders and reckless boaters this Memorial Day weekend, with particular focus on drunken boaters. They expect rough waves and plenty of opportunity for disaster.

The National Weather Service in Melbourne issued a small-craft advisory through this morning, but it may continue through the holiday weekend.

"We may see hazardous boating conditions from Southern Brevard to the Treasure Coast," said Tony Cristaldi, senior forecaster with the National Weather Service in Melbourne.

Carelessness

In 2005, Brevard was one of the safest counties in the state in which to ride a boat. One accident was recorded for every 3,215 boats on the water. A year later, however, the rate jumped to one accident for every 1,559 boats.

While the rate can swing drastically year to year, patrol officers said one variable stays constant.

"I think it's just carelessness," said Lenny Salberg, a patrolman with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Titusville.

He saw some of that a few weeks ago when two men on personal watercraft rammed into each another on the Banana River. They were not seriously hurt but caused at least $3,000 in damage.

"They're hot-doggin' it," Salberg said of the incident that earned one man a misdemeanor charge and about a $230 ticket.

Other times, such recklessness proves fatal.

In July, a 23-year-old Merritt Island man died after he was thrown into a dock from his 1980s model Waverunner he'd owned about a week.

Authorities said Jevon Henderson was speeding about 20 mph in a shallow manatee slow-speed zone in the Indian River Lagoon when his head struck the dock at the end of Indianola Drive, where he'd grown up.

It was believed to be just the second time he'd rode his watercraft.

Lack of life vests

Personal watercraft account for about a quarter of the accidents statewide, even though they're only 11 percent of the total vessels. Last year, 11 people died and 146 were hurt in 174 accidents on personal watercraft. Five of the accidents with injuries were in Brevard, including one fatality.

There were 4,208 personal watercraft registered in Brevard in 2006 and 10 times as many boats, or 40,573.

A life vest would not have made much difference in the Merritt Island Waverunner accident, officers said, because the man died of head trauma.

But a vest might have saved Jewan Gopaul's life one October day on Lake Poinsett in Cocoa. Authorities found the 42-year-old Orlando man in just 5 feet of water. He disappeared during a fishing trip. His boat was found going in circles. Alcohol was not considered a factor.

On Sunday, April 30, a fishing trip in West Cocoa turned tragic after a boat flipped and two Cocoa men drowned in a canal off Mallard Road. Perry Jackson, 53, and James Johnson, 57, drowned. Leroy Holmes, 53, swam to shore and watched in horror from the canal entrance to Lake Poinsett.

Alcohol was not involved, but none were wearing flotation devices, investigators said.

Deadly combination

Some learn the hardest way that alcohol and boats can a deadly combination make.

On May 20 last year, a 41-year-old Merritt Island man fell off a 15-foot-long 1976 Glastron as it drifted on the Banana River about 8 p.m. Raymond Robertson was not wearing a life vest. Searchers found his body a day later.

Officers said he and the man who driving the boat were drinking heavily. The driver was arrested and charged with boating under the influence.

Several law enforcement agencies plan to team up this weekend to focus on drunken boating checks. They use the same blood-alcohol standard for boating as driving a car: .08 percent. The standard is .02 percent for people under 21 years old.

People under 21 also are the only ones legally required to take a boating safety class and obtain a special boating safety card.

That's part of the problem, said Tom McGill, a Merritt Island boater.

"They really ought to license drivers of boats," he said. "It's a matter of safety."

http://www.floridatoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070527/NEWS01/705270335
 
G

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Some sobering reading especially considering I could have been one of them Saturday.

The National Weather Service in Melbourne issued a small-craft advisory through this morning, but it may continue through the holiday weekend.
I feel this statement and trust me it blows in more then one way.
 
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