Boating Safety Negligence to Blame for the Deaths of a Pregnant Mother and Son in North Carolina

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Boating season is now upon us and this year, the season has already gotten off on a bad note after several maritime accidents have been reported across the nation. Our boat accident lawyers have previously discussed the many ways in which collisions and subsequent passenger injuries may be reduced, but now more than ever, the need to abide by proper maritime law is critical to ensuring the safety of all boaters across the U.S.

Memorial Day weekend was especially tragic this year, with numerous injuries and fatalities reported throughout the country. The holiday weekend is notorious for boating and equally famous for its high rate of maritime accidents. Whether going out on a motor boat, sail boat, personal water craft, or even a canoe, it’s imperative that all sea lovers try to stay as safe as possible to avoid horrific incidents, such as the weekend boat crash in North Carolina, which claimed the lives of a pregnant mother and her three-year-old son.

Melissa Chambers Britt, 32 and her son William Jaiden went out on a pontoon boat with loved ones on Saturday to enjoy Memorial Day weekend on High Rock Lake when tragedy struck. A speed boat crashed into the vessel the victims were riding on, throwing mother and son into the water.

Immediately following the incident, Britt’s husband, William Clayborn, jumped into the water to try and save his wife and son but it was too late. William Jaiden was pulled out of the water and transported to an area hospital, but he later died of his injuries. Britt’s husband could not locate her at the scene and her family notified emergency authorities, who were able to recover her body a few hours later.

Britt’s brother Michael Chambers was also riding in the boat when the accident occurred and had to be airlifted to a nearby hospital for extensive injuries to his head.  None of the passengers in the speedboat or pilot Michael Green were injured. Green may face criminal charges, but authorities have yet to announce whether or not he will be arrested for the accident.

Authorities did disclose what contributed to the accident, and the news is nothing short of shocking. Green claims he didn’t see the Britt’s family pontoon boat until the last minute and once he did, tried to turn to evade it but it was too late, and subsequently crashed into the vessel.

He was traveling at around 50 mph, which in some areas may be considered speeding, but in High Rock Lake, there is no speed limit, which is a gross mistake on the state’s part.

Two things appear to have gone wrong with this sad accident. The first was that, based on reports, Greene was likely distracted. While police do not believe alcohol was a factor in the crash, the truth is, operating a vessel without paying attention to one’s surroundings is just as serious an offense. Boat pilots must always keep a clear head and note everything that’s occurring in their surroundings in order to take evasive action and avoid a collision. This was Greene’s first mistake.

The second, which is also a mistake on North Carolina’s part, is the fact that his vessel was traveling too fast. Had he been going slower, perhaps he would have been able to turn his boat before striking the pontoon and killing the pregnant mother and her young son.

North Carolina’s boating laws are a bit ambiguous to begin with. According to NCwaterways.com, a water craft that is within 50 yards of any controlled or state-owned boating or fishing area must be driven at “no-wake” speed, which is 6 mph. Although the Lake does not have any regulations, 50 mph is a steep speed to be traveling, even for motor vehicles on land.

As for personal watercrafts, including jet skis, wave runners and the like, the state imposes no-wake speed when the craft is either 100 feet of an anchored vessel, a dock, swimming area, or persons in the water, including swimmers and surfers.

Speed was undoubtedly a factor involved in the crash, and whether or not there are speed limits in a recreational boating area, all vessel operators should exercise some basic common sense of safety and maintain a reasonable speed – especially in an area that is common for water activities and during one of the busiest holidays for boaters.

Greene finds out next week if he will be charged with manslaughter, but even if he is not, he will now have to live with the fact that because of his negligence in abiding by proper maritime safety regulations, a mother, her son and her unborn child were killed.

All of our boating accident lawyers here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. cannot stress enough the dangers that can be found out at sea and advise all boaters to avoid alcohol consumption, operate vessels at a reasonable speed, pay attention to surroundings, and wear life jackets.  The stricter maritime laws are abided, the lesser the chances of someone sustaining serious or fatal injuries.