Boating accidents are some of the most serious types of accidents that can occur. Pilot inexperience, speeding or operation a vessel under the influence are all factors that can lead to serious – if not fatal – injuries for boaters. But while there are laws that govern maritime accidents in the event that the incident was the result of someone’s wrongdoing, not all states impose strict penalties.
Now, one New Jersey widow whose husband was killed in a boating accident in 2008 is fighting for tougher state boating laws to ensure victims obtain the justice they deserve.
Bonnie Post’s husband Robert, 47, was killed after boater Anthony DiGilio, then 29, crashed into the 17-foot Boston Whaler Robert was operating on Aug. 3, 2008 in the Metedeconk River in Brick, New Jersey. After the accident, DiGilio left the scene and only came forward hours later, once he had obtained legal counsel, notifying authorities that he “may have” hit something in the area where the accident occurred. DiGilio even went as far as to taken his own 27-foot Imperial performance boat out of the water.
In the meantime, Robert Post was left to slowly die, while DiGilio was never charged with leaving the scene of an accident. Although DiGilio was charged with the more serious offense of homicide, last week, four years after the incident, he was found not guilty and walked away from court a free man.
Bonnie Post, now feeling as though her family had been robbed of justice, has brought to light the lax boating accident laws in New Jersey and the state’s failure to prosecute those who leave the scene of a collision.
There are states in which leaving the scene of a fatal boating accident could earn a suspect years behind bars if convicted, but in New Jersey, the state’s mandatory accident reporting statute does not carry specific fines or penalties. Instead, there is only a default fine of a mere $25 imposed for violating a general boating statute.
When it comes to auto accidents, leaving the scene of a fatal accident is considered a third degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. But unfortunately, this gap in executing justice for boating accident victims has lead several suspects, including DiGilio, to face little – if any – repercussions for their wrongful actions.
Several years ago, state Sen. James Holzapfel (R-Ocean) proposed a bill that would increase the penalties for leaving the scene of a boating accident when he was still a member of the General Assembly. The bill (S-1478) would essentially make the laws for boating accidents the same for automobile accidents, imposing the third degree felony charge in the case of a fatality. However, the bill never made it as far as a committee vote.
Now as a senator, Holzapfel has kept reintroducing the bill each session, with the support of his fellow 10th district legislators in the Assembly.
“It really is a hole in the system, not to have something with teeth in it,” said Holzapfel, a former Ocean County prosecutor, explaining that the laws for boating accidents in New Jersey are outdated and don’t reflect the increasing traffic on waterways.
Since the DiGilio verdict came in, Holzapfel’s office has been receiving multiple calls asking for the law to be improved and has informed state Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden, Gloucester), who chairs the senate’s Law and Public Safety Committee, of the residents’ concerns regarding the lax boating safety laws in the state. Even Dave Patnaude, president of the New Jersey Performance Power Boat Club, said he would also support enhancing the penalty for leaving the scene of boating accidents.
“By land or by sea, there’s no excuse for leaving the scene of an accident,” said Patnaude, whose group in the past has actually argued against boating restrictions in the past.
Meanwhile, Post family have now started an online petition to move the state government to pass tougher laws as well, but for Bonnie, whose days are tainted with the knowledge that her husband’s killer paid no price for his crimes, justice is a long way off.
“This is such a brutal lesson for my children, to not have justice be done,” said Post, whose sons are now ages 17 and 24. “As frustrated as I am at this outcome and as angry as I am, I have to remember that this was such an uphill battle from the beginning. My goal was just to have [DiGilio] sit through a trial and think about what he did.”
Hopefully the state will follow through with Sen. Holzapfel’s proposition and increase the penalties for leaving the scene of a boating accident so the crimes of negligent boaters will no longer go unrecognized.