State officials used the launch of their summer campaign against drinking and driving or boating to draw attention to a bill that would stiffen the penalties for impaired drivers who kill someone.
House Bill 65 would require an active prison sentence for anyone convicted of felony death by vehicle or felony death by impaired boating. The bill has already passed the House and is now before the Senate.
State officials say 23 people were killed in 22 boating accidents in North Carolina last year, and that alcohol played a role in five of those accidents. Maj. W. Todd Kennedy of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission said there have been two fatal boat crashes in the past two weeks, and in each case impaired driving was a factor.
Kennedy said the goal of the annual “On the Road/On the Water, Don’t Drink and Drive” campaign is to discourage people from getting behind the wheel of a car or boat while impaired.
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“For those of you who make a conscious decision to drink and then operate a boat or a car, be assured: We will be looking for you,” he said.
Wildlife Resources and State Highway Patrol officials kicked off the campaign on the shores of Falls Lake on Thursday. They were joined by Rep. Larry Pittman, a Republican from Concord who introduced the bill, and the family of Sheyenne Marshall, a Carbarrus County teen who was killed in a boating accident on Lake Norman two years ago.
Sheyenne, 17, was on the water on a kneeboard when she was struck by a passing boat on Fourth of July weekend.
Authorities said the driver was impaired. But boating while impaired was a misdemeanor in the state until Pittman, months after Sheyenne’s death, sponsored a bill that sought to make impaired boating that results in death a felony. The bill, signed into law last spring, is known as Sheyenne’s Law.
“My sister had her entire life ahead of her,” Montana Marshall, Sheyenne’s older sister, said Thursday. “She wanted to be a nurse. We were shocked to find there were no real penalties for impaired boaters.”
Pittman described House Bill 65 as an amendment to Sheyenne’s Law. He said he hopes a strengthened law would prompt people to think a little more carefully before driving a car or operating a water vessel while impaired.
“No one gets up and says ‘I believe I’ll get on the road or the water and kill somebody today,’ ” he said. “I think this works for the elimination of these kinds of incidents.”