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9-year-old boy’s death is the eighth boating-related fatality in the state since mid-May

By Hilary Trenda
htrenda@chartlotteobserver.com

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  • Want to learn more?

    The annual N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission report of boating accidents and fatalities statewide is available online from 2004 to 2011. Officials said 2012 data will be released soon: bit.ly/107M9IM.



The 9-year-old boy killed in a personal watercraft collision on Lake Norman Thursday is the eighth boating-related fatality in the state since mid-May.

N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission spokesman Geoff Cantrell said while the number of deaths is unofficial, it’s already high for the season.

“That’s eight fatalities in the past five to six weeks – two were double fatalities,” he said. The double fatalities occurred at High Rock Lake and on the Yeopim River.

There were 23 fatal boating accidents statewide in 2012, according to the commission’s annual data. There were 25 fatal accidents in 2011.

The breakdown of where the fatal boating accidents occurred during 2012 has yet to be released, Cantrell said. But data show the last boating fatalities in Mecklenburg County before 2011 were in 2005. There were two deaths that year.

The boy who died Thursday afternoon was the second death at Lake Norman in a week. Fisherman Herbert James, 53, of Mocksville, drowned Tuesday. Prior to 2013, Lake Norman’s last reported fatality was in 2009, according to annual NCWRC data.

Boating requirements

Lake Norman Marine Commission Executive Director Ron Shoultz said the state’s mandatory boater education law has been in place since 2010 and requires anyone under the age of 26 to have passed a boater education class in order to operate a boat or personal watercraft.

State boating laws also require personal watercraft operators be at least 14 years old, Shoultz said.

NCWRC Area Sgt. Allen Carlisle helped investigate Thursday’s fatal crash on Lake Norman and said there were four juveniles involved, two on each of the personal watercraft that collided. Carlisle said the two operators were 14 and 15 and had gotten their boating safety certificates within the past month.

The accident

Carlisle said the accident is still under investigation, but officials believe the two operators were following each other while out in the Turner’s Knob area of Mountain Creek, off Mount Pleasant Road in Catawba County.

“One slowed down, the other didn’t realize it, and they collided,” he said.

Officials said the boy, who was visiting from Arizona, died from blunt-force trauma. Officials are unlikely to release his or his family’s identity, due to his age, Carlisle said.

The boy was a passenger on the personal watercraft being operated by the 15-year-old girl, who was taken to Carolinas Medical Center with injuries that were not life threatening, Carlisle said. The two children on the second watercraft were not hurt.

Shoultz said the required boater education courses teach operators to be aware of their vessel, as well as “navigation and the rules of the road.”

Carlisle said that many personal watercraft operators, despite having taken safety classes, underestimate how quickly the vessels can get away from them.

“People have to realize boats and jet skis are not toys,” he said. “They’ve got to treat them like a vehicle and they have to pay attention no matter what.”

“On the road, it’s so easy to get distracted. It’s twice as easy on the water … On the lake, people go where they want. There are no (traffic) lanes, no way of knowing when someone is slowing down, speeding up, stopping, anything like that. The only way to prevent (collisions) is if people absolutely concentrate on what they’re doing.”

Chris Huebner, a major with the enforcement division of the NCWRC, said it’s difficult to attribute trends to the number of boating fatalities because every situation is unique.

“Boating accidents are very unpredictable and very different in every case,” Huebner said. “The one variable that usually is the same is that a lot (of fatalities) could have been prevented by wearing a lifejacket.”

“If people pay attention and wear their lifejacket, maybe we can prevent some of these tragedies.”

Trenda: 704-358-5089; Twitter: @htrenda
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