July 4, 2008 in City
On the water front
Tony Cline was hoping to catch a big fish Sunday morning.
The 17-year-old borrowed an inflatable boat with a small motor from his boss and planned to spend the day on Newman Lake with his sister and a friend.
He got as far as the public boat launch, where Spokane County sheriff’s deputies were performing safety inspections on the dozens of boats and personal watercraft lined up to put in.
The Spokane marine unit is beefing up its presence on lakes this holiday weekend, following a May 28 accident at Newman Lake in which a boat propeller severed a woman’s arm.
Deputies on North Idaho waterways are also gearing up for one of the busiest weekends for boating – and often for drinking.
“Especially with the Fourth on a Friday, that’s going to bring even more people in,” said Lt. Dan Soumas, of the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department.
With no whistle on board and no life jackets – both required under Washington law – Cline and his crowd were landlocked Sunday at the Spokane Valley lake.
Cline also lacked a boater education class, required this year for drivers 20 and younger in Washington. That age limit will increase in five-year increments each year until the requirement applies to everyone born after 1955, deputies said.
“You ruined my day, dude,” said Cline, as Deputy Wade Nelson, of the Spokane sheriff’s marine unit, issued the teen a failed inspection report.
Nelson said the goal is not to stop anybody’s fun but to make sure people know the laws as they set out on lakes and rivers.
“We are here to educate,” Nelson said. “We really don’t write that many tickets.”
In the Newman Lake accident, the victim was riding on the bow of the boat – illegal in Washington – when the driver, her husband, turned sharply. She fell out and was run over by boat’s propeller. Her arm, severed below the elbow, was never recovered. Her husband was arrested on felony assault charges.
The boat was “littered with beer and wine” bottles, deputies said.
While it’s not illegal to have an open container of alcohol on a boat, the driver’s blood-alcohol level must be under 0.08 – the same limit faced by drivers on the road.
And environmental factors, such as sun and waves, can cause disorientation, making alcohol and a day on the water a bad mix.
“One beer in a boat is like three beers on land,” said Sgt. Scott Szoke, supervisor of the Spokane marine unit.
Five Spokane County deputies will be on patrol today. In the past, only two deputies were sent to patrol more than a dozen lakes plus the Spokane River. The Sheriff’s Office has two personal watercraft and three boats, plus a jet boat for river rescues. Deputies will patrol the river using the personal watercraft; the biggest of the three boats will be deployed on Long Lake.
Two boats will be posted at Newman Lake, where the community has an annual boat parade. Boats are often loaded over capacity, and alcohol use is usually high, deputies said.
“It’s a little bigger, more organized effort,” Szoke said.
Kootenai County officials said they’ll put six boats on duty today, most of them on Lake Coeur d’Alene. The agency will maintain five or six boats throughout the weekend.
Gas prices don’t seem to have deterred boaters, who are still flocking to waterways, Spokane officials said. Some, however, are heading to lakes closer to home, such as Newman Lake, rather than driving farther to Coeur d’Alene or Pend Oreille.
The Spokane marine unit had performed 250 inspections by Thursday and expected that number to climb to well over 500 by the end of the year.