2 Students Killed in Grand Lake Boating Accident

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

There has been a lot of talk regarding cruise ship accidents and crimes lately, with some of the world’s leading liners like Carnival Cruise Line making headlines for disastrous passenger injuries and an overall disregard of maritime safety. However, it is important not to lose focus on boating safety as well. Boating season is upon us and our boat accident lawyers warn those with a love for the water and adventure to exercise extreme caution while enjoying themselves . Boating can be a lot of fun, but it can also  be very dangerous. Between drunk operators, inexperienced pilots and a slew of other safety violations that are frequently committed, like speeding, boaters are at high risk for serious injuries.

Just yesterday, an evening boat ride proved fatal for two people, after the vessel they were riding in crashed into a docked house boat on Grand Lake in Oklahoma. The victims, Rachel Swetnam of Grove, OK and William (Trey) Varner, of Texarkana, AK were both students at the University of Arkansas. Swetnam was set to graduate next year.

Authorities report the collision occurred at around 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Duck Creek arm of Grand Lake.  Preliminary reports from the Grand River Dam Authority Police explain that a 22-foot ski boat carrying eight passengers (all in their 20’s) collided with an empty houseboat docked in the Arrowhead Yacht Club.

The two students who died were riding in the front of the pleasure craft. Four other passengers  were transported to Craig General Hospital in Vinita with injuries, the extent of which are as yet unknown. The remaining passengers refused treatment at the scene of the boat accident.

Crews have been working around the clock to clear the wreckage to obtain more information regarding the cause of the crash, but local police have yet to acknowledge whether alcohol was a factor in the boating accident.

According to lake officials, speed and alcohol are the two leading causes of boating accidents on Grand Lake. There are specific regulations to ensure boaters operate their vessels safety, including an official lake rule that says vessels within 150-ft of wharves, docks, shorelines or other boats must not travel faster than idle speed. Additionally, lake rules require boats to be equipped with proper navigation lights. Of course, boating under the influence (BUI) is prohibited.

Unfortunately, alcohol consumption and speeding are two leading factors in boat accidents around the country. The U.S. Coast Guard reports that the number of fatal boating accidents caused by operator negligence are increasing at an alarming rate. In fact, according to the maritime authority’s 2011 Recreational Boating Statistics report, the number of boat accident deaths increased by 12.8 percent from 2010 to 2011, and alcohol was at the forefront of these tragedies. 

In 2011, the Coast Guard reported that 125 boating accidents fatalities were the direct result of the pilot’s intoxication. While there are times in which accidents cannot be foreseen or easily prevented, any boat collision that is attributed to intoxication is 100 percent preventable.

An investigation into the Grand Lake boat crash is underway. Authorities have not released who was operating the vessel at the time of the crash, once that is determined and if alcohol is determined to have played a role in the accident, the victims may be entitled to obtain compensation for their injuries and the loved ones of the deceased may also be eligible to file a negligence suit for damages.

We will report further details as they become available. In the meantime, all of our boating accident lawyers here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. warn about the dangers of failing to abide by proper maritime laws and advise everyone who operates a vessel or personal water craft to stay sober, wear lifejackets, maintain appropriate speeds and be aware of what is around you, even when there is little or no maritime traffic.

These are just four simple steps that if followed by all boaters, would help reduce the number of maritime accidents and subsequent injuries and fatalities.