In terms of boating safety, the Fourth of July holiday weekend was a complete disaster for Alabama.
Three separate boating accidents on Alabama lakes during the holiday killed four people and injured several others, some severely.
On July 4, a boat that witnesses described as being operated in a dangerous manner collided with another vessel on Lake Jordan in Elmore County, killing two people and injuring five others. Beasley Allen lawyer Ben Locklar has filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Wahoo and Susan House, the parents of Travis House, one of the young men killed in that crash.
That same night, on Smith Lake in Winston County, a two-boat collision sent four people to the hospital and left a fifth person missing but presumed dead.
The following day, another boating accident also on Smith Lake killed a 12-year-old girl and injured two other children.
There have been 25 boating accident deaths across Alabama in the first 6 ½ months of 2019, making it the deadliest year for boating in the state in at least two decades, surpassing the year-end totals for each of the last 20 years.
Of, course when lakes and other waterways become more crowded with boat traffic, the risk of danger goes up. Add to that the party atmosphere that dominates on the Fourth of July and other summer holidays and events, and the risk of injury and death escalates even more.
Still, safety on the water this year is particularly bad, and there is plenty of summer left to go.
Capt. Gary Buchanan, the commander of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s Marine Patrol, told AL.com he’s “never seen anything like it” in his 24 years of patrolling Alabama waterways.
He added that there seems to be little rhyme or reason to the boating accidents this year.
“Some have happened at night, some during the day, some have involved one boat, some two boats and alcohol has been a factor in some,’’ he told AL.com. “It’s all over the spectrum.”
According to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) Marine Patrol Division, there have been 68 boating accidents so far this year. In July alone, 12 boat crashes resulted in six deaths.
The last time Alabama recorded this many boating deaths in an entire year was in 1998 when 32 people were killed statewide.
Officials say that boating safety statewide improved after the mandatory operator license boating law was fully implemented in 1999, but there are other factors that may explain why so many boating accidents occur despite better safety laws.
This year there was less rain over the Memorial and Independence Day holiday weekends, meaning more people took to boating on the state’s waterways. A strong economy also leads to more boater registrations and more boats on the water, according to AL.com. At the same time, there has been a significant decrease in Marine Patrol presence. Capt. Buchanan said that there are 45 Marine Patrol officers on active duty for the entire state – more than 20 fewer than 10-15 years ago.