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June 19, 2009

Boating Fatalities Down as Spring Turns to Summer

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials have noted a drop in boating fatalities after a rash of accidents in March signaled that 2009 might be on track to match the near-record high of 61 fatalities in 2008.

As of June 18, year-to-date boating fatalities stand at 18. Texas Game Wardens and members of the Lewisville Fire Department are combing the waters of Lewisville Lake for the body of a 35-year-old man who went swimming off of a pontoon boat Wednesday evening.

In the same time period last year, 31 Texas boaters died.

"It’s not clear why we are seeing a drop in fatal accidents, but it is certainly welcome news," said Texas Game Warden Maj. Alfonso Campos, TPWD’s chief of marine enforcement. "Following the fatalities on Belton Lake, Lake Grapevine, Lewisville Lake, Lake Lavon and Richland Chambers Reservoir back in March, we really stepped-up our public education efforts, as well as enforcement efforts; maybe that made a difference, or maybe people are just being more careful."

Over the Memorial Day holiday, there were zero fatal boating accidents in Texas, something Campos called "remarkable."

On Lake Conroe, where Texas Game Wardens and members of the Montgomery County Precinct One Constable’s Office worked with the district attorney to implement the state’s first "no refusal" weekend on a major lake, there were no accidents at all.

"The public was aware due to extensive media coverage and we received a number of thanks from the boating public for taking such a strong stance against Boating While Intoxicated," said Texas Game Warden Capt. Ron VanderRoest. "Texas Game Wardens on Lake Conroe arrested eight suspects for BWI, two for Narcotics violations, one for Failure to ID Fugitive and also issued more than 175 citations."

VanderRoest said that at least three more "no refusal" weekends are slated for the lake over the summer, with the largest effort slated for the July 4 holiday weekend.

Statewide, Texas Game Wardens and local marine safety officers will participate in "Operation Dry Water" June 26-28. The campaign, sponsored by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, involves 48 states and emphasizes BWI detection and enforcement.

"We’ll have saturation patrols on some lakes with an emphasis on stopping drunk boaters," Campos said.

Campos cautioned that the lower numbers of boating fatalities so far this year does not mean that boaters should be any less vigilant or careful on the water.

"Maybe we’re getting a little bit smarter about how we have fun on the water," he said. "But maybe we’ve just been lucky. Either way, we would be very happy if this trend continues and fewer families have to experience the tragedy of losing a loved one on the lake."

Campos reminded boaters to wear their life jackets, designate a sober driver on the water and for a safe ride home, and to enroll in an approved boater education course.

"If everyone would do those three things, we’d see a huge reduction in these largely preventable accidents," he said.

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AR 2009-06-19


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