Police target drunken, drugged boaters and drivers this weekend 


State law enforcement officials used Wrightsville Beach as a backdrop to launch its annual “On the Road, On the Water, Don’t Drink and Drive” campaign on Tuesday, warning drivers and boaters of patrols and sobriety checkpoints over the Memorial Day weekend and throughout the summer.

The campaign comes as the North Carolina General Assembly moves to increase penalties for drunk boating accidents that result in injuries. District Attorney Ben David said that he supports the legislation’s proposed increase in punishments.

“Boating accidents can result in much different punishment, even though they are no less fatal,” David said.

The legislation, named after 17-year-old Sheyenne Marshall, who was killed last year when she was hit by an intoxicated boater on Lake Norman, will make a fatality or serious injury occurring from drunken boating a felony.

Current state law deems drunken boating a misdemeanor with a minimum $250 fine.

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission will be patrolling waterways in Wrightsville Beach and around the state to maintain safety and look for boaters who are intoxicated, Capt. Todd Radabaugh said.

While the most common offense is usually equipment violations, Radabaugh said that officers do have tests that can assess if a boater is intoxicated, similar to the field sobriety test for drivers.

“It focuses on paying attention and being able to do several little things at one time,” Radabaugh said. “It’s very difficult for intoxicated people.”

North Carolina ranks 10th in the nation in boating fatalities, the commission said, with operator inattention being the leading cause of boating accidents, the majority of which come in May, June and July.

In addition to checks on the water, Capt. Alvin Bachelor of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol said that its officers would also have check points by boating ramps.

The problem of intoxicated boating can magnify itself once boaters are off the water, said LaRonda Scott, executive director of the North Carolina chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Boaters who have been drinking on the water will then load the boat onto a trailer attached to the back of a vehicle, driving drunk while towing a heavy load.

“Those thousands of pounds turn into a weapon on the highway,” Scott said. “It’s a 100 percent preventable crime.”

Along with looking for drunk drivers, David said more attention is being paid to drugged driving, especially as abuse of opioids and other prescription drugs continue to be a problem in the Wilmington area.

Earlier this week, a grand jury indicted Melissa Henderson, the mother of a 13-month-old boy killed in a fiery wreck in April, with charges that include possession of schedule IV narcotics. Henderson swerved off the road and hit a tree, causing the car to catch fire. David said driving impaired with a child in the car is the same as child abuse.

“There is more death and destruction from driving while impaired than from guns and knives,” David said.

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