CORNELIUS As the holiday week revved up on Lake Norman over the weekend, so did the 200-horsepower Yamaha engine of a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police boat.
On board the 19-foot Key West center-console craft were Officers Charles Smitty Smith and David Junior Turner.
Their mission: To inspect boats on the water for safety violations and drunken drivers, as part of the national Operation Dry Water boating-under-the-influence awareness and enforcement campaign, which continues this week on Lake Norman, as well as Mountain Island Lake and Lake Wylie. The officers hadnt even left shore Saturday afternoon when they called back a boat heading onto the lake from Blythe Landing, a Mecklenburg County-run park off N.C. 73.
Three of the children aboard were not wearing lifejackets, and the officers cited the operator, Miguel Lainez, 34. Then they handed child-size lifejackets to Lainez to borrow for the rest of the afternoon, and Lainez smiled and shook their hands.
I didnt know until I got back here (to shore) that state law mandated that children wear lifejackets, he said. The officers told him a judge might show leniency if he takes a boater education course before his August court date.
People will say, I didnt know, Smith said later on the CMPD boat. But its the same as driving on the street. Its your responsibility to know.
Turner said it is easy for someone to drown. There are places out here that are over 100 feet deep, he said.
From 4 p.m. to midnight Saturday, CMPD lake enforcement officers patrolled Lake Norman with officers from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, Mecklenburg County Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and state Alcohol Law Enforcement agency. Forty officers in all and 17 boats participated, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Sgt. Mark Faulkenberry said.
By 8:30 p.m., officers had arrested and charged 10 boat operators with boating while intoxicated, Sgt. Barry Rowell of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission said. Rowell is the commissions supervising officer over Mecklenburg, Cabarrus and Union counties.
In North Carolina, a driver or vessel operator with a blood-alcohol concentration that meets or exceeds 0.08 or is appreciably impaired by alcohol or other drugs is subject to arrest, officers said.
Officers also cited numerous boaters for safety violations such as a lack of lifejackets, fire extinguishers and lighting. An errant vehicle driver was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated while attempting to haul his boat on a trailer from the Blythe Landing parking lot after an inebriated day on the lake.
The Governors Highway Safety Commission had its Breath Alcohol Testing Mobile Unit at Blythe Landing with several intoximeters inside to test boaters blood-alcohol concentrations.
A team of officers drove suspects to a magistrate and the Mecklenburg County Jail in Charlotte, while the arresting officers returned onto the water to reel in more suspects.
Officers also conducted pre-launch boat checks at Blythe Landing. They refrained from citing boaters who lacked safety equipment while the boats were still on land, but warned the boaters to get the equipment before heading onto the lake, Rowell said.
Were trying to educate them before they get out there, and save them a ticket, Faulkenberry said.
Last summer, 28 boaters died and 80 others were seriously injured on North Carolina waterways. The state ranked ninth in boating wrecks nationally and seventh in boating fatalities.
Two died recently on Lake Norman, neither alcohol-related.
Fisherman Herbert James, 53, of Mocksville, drowned June 18 after his boat took on water and began to sink near the Stumpy Creek Boat Launch off Perth Road in Mooresville. The boat sank because a drain wasnt plugged in, authorities said.
On June 20, a 9-year-old boy visiting from Arizona died of blunt-force trauma in a personal watercraft collision in the Turners Knob area of Mountain Creek, off Mount Pleasant Road in Catawba County.
As Turner and Smith headed onto the lake about 4:30 p.m. Saturday, other officers were already investigating reports of an intoxicated boat driver at Davidson Landing and an intoxicated personal watercraft rider near the Rusty Rudder restaurant in Cornelius. It was going to be a busy night with no thunderstorms to shoo boaters off the lake.
Boater Kelli Crisan, owner of the Roaming Fork food truck in Charlotte, said she was glad for the police presence. She and two friends were on her 20-foot Chaparral open-bow boat in the Ramsey Creek section of the lake, off Blythe Landing, when Turner and Smith pulled up.
The officers found only a registration sticker placed on the wrong part of the boat.
Its nice to be out here and know youre being protected, Crisan said.
Marusak: 704-987-3670; on Twitter @ jmarusak.
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