Monday, September 26, 2005

Smith Mountain Lake - Boating Accident - Mark Detournillon

Lake residents float new safety regulations Victor Reklaitis September 6, 2005 MONETA - A few days before a public forum on boating safety, a speed limit for Smith Mountain Lake and licenses for boaters are some of the ideas getting tossed around by lake residents. Some are also calling for a ban on high-performance boats like the one involved in an Aug. 20 accident that killed a Moneta couple. “There are about 20,000 full-time residents who live on or near Smith Mountain Lake, and there are about 20,000 different ideas about how the lake could be made safer for boating,” said one official, Ralph Brush, as he announced the forum last week. “Right now, they are very angry and they want action.” The forum, slated for 6 p.m. Thursday at Trinity Ecumenical Parish, will come less than three weeks after the recent wreck. On Aug. 20, a 38-foot Donzi performance boat plowed over the couple’s cabin cruiser at about 60 miles per hour. The Donzi’s owner, Mark F. Detournillon, 45, of Moneta, told authorities he had taken several medications and drank a glass of wine, according to a search warrant affidavit. He faces two charges of involuntary manslaughter. “It’s not just the high-powered boats,” said one lake resident, Dee Dee Bondurant. “Speed - period - is an issue.” She said “muscle boats” shouldn’t be singled out, since Jet Skis and bass boats also can travel at speeds of more than 60 miles per hour. But Bondurant, the co-founder of a women’s group called the She-Doos that emphasizes the safe use of Jet Skis and Sea-Doos, said she’s not sure what would be a suitable speed limit or if it could be enforced. Other lake communities across the United States have implemented or are considering speed limits. On Lake George in upstate New York, the daytime speed limit is 45 miles per hour, and the nighttime speed limit is 25 miles per hour. Lake George covers about 28,000 acres, while Smith Mountain Lake covers about 22,000. There are no-wake zones at Smith Mountain Lake and age limits for using Jet Skis, but there are no posted speed limits and no boating licenses. In the past three years, it has been the site of at least 20 percent of Virginia’s boating accidents, and it’s often called Virginia’s most dangerous body of water. Another lake resident with suggestions is Bob Moran, a volunteer firefighter who responded to the Aug. 20 accident. “Do we need these big boats on the lake?” he asked of high-performance boats, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and are often criticized for being too loud or too fast. He said responding to the wreck left him upset and wondering, “Did he have to go that fast?” and “Did this really have to happen?” Moran said he has thought about horsepower limits as well as speed limits, and banning Jet Skis as well as high-performance boats. “There’s so many possibilities. It’s just a matter of what can be done,” he said. While 21 Jet Skis and other personal watercraft (PWCs) have been involved in the 75 reported accidents on Smith Mountain Lake since 2003, it’s unclear how many of the accidents have involved high-performance boats. In accident reports, performance boats are put in a kind of catchall category - “open watercraft” - that includes runabouts and bass boats. That’s according to Capt. Ron Henry of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF). Henry said 18 of the 75 reported accidents since 2003 have been at night. In addition, 2003 had one fatal accident on Smith Mountain Lake, while 2004 and this year have each had three boating deaths. Other proposals for making the lake safer for boating include improving the existing boater education programs and giving DGIF more money and greater flexibility. This summer, wardens have struggled with a new law that provided no additional resources, but required at least one warden to patrol Smith Mountain Lake daily from sunrise to sunset. Some people at Smith Mountain Lake don’t see a need for speed limits, boating licenses or other new measures. “I really think it was an isolated incident,” Lee Fusco said of the recent wreck. He lives in Northampton, Penn., but spends many weekends at his home on the lake. He said, “Basically, people have to use common sense. I don’t see where rules or laws or restrictions are going to do anything.” Fusco, the owner of a 28-foot Donzi high-performance boat, said his goal is to be as safe as possible, and he doesn’t boat at night. While performance boats are taking a lot of heat, he argued that, “It’s not the boat that gives you the trouble. It’s the person driving it.”

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