Booze, boats continue deadly mix on Illinois lakes

July 1, 2013 9:02:13 PM PDT
Don't drink and drive. It's a message that's been hammered home for people who get behind the wheel of a car, but some fear boaters play by different rules.

Arrests are up but the problem persists: summer fun on local waterways, turning to tragedy. ABC7 has found that despite multiple deaths and nearly 200 arrests every year statewide, boats and booze continue to mix.

"We stopped at the store and got some Summer Shandy and some Rose," said a male boater.

ABC7's Ben Bradley asks: "I hope you have a designated boat driver?"

"We did, we do," said the male boater.

"Definitely not us though," said his female boating companion.

But despite the risks, the party floats on.

"You would never see someone driving down the street with an open beer with a bunch of kids in their car, you'd be appalled," said Margaret Borcia, whose son was killed in a boat crash.

Tony Borcia of Libertyville was out for fun day of tubing with his family on the Chain-O-Lakes last year when he fell in the water.

David Hatyina plowed into the 10-year-old with his own boat. Authorities say he had been drinking and was high on cocaine.

"Tony was a very happy little boy, and one of the things he really loved doing was tubing, he loved it," said Margaret Borcia. "And to think that people are not letting their children do that and are just letting intoxicated people take over the lakes for the whole weekend is infuriating."

Year after year, state records show that hundreds of people are arrested for operating a watercraft while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Police arrested176 in 2011, and 209 in 2012.

Last year, 19 people were killed in boat crashes on Illinois waterways. State officials say more than half of the fatalities involved people who were drunk or high.

State boat fatality records are filled with stories of the dangers of drinking, drugs and boating- from coroners finding drowning victims with high blood alcohol contents, to drunk boaters who just fell off into the water, to deadly crashes involving both boaters and nearby swimmers.

Booze and boating are so ingrained in the culture here on the Chain-O-Lakes, locals have even nicknamed an underpass "Beer Can Bridge."

"This is the busiest inland waterway in the U.S. per acre, per vessel," said Brad Feinberg, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary is among several agencies that watch the water and the people who play "on" and "in" it.

There are 25,000 registered boats on the Chain-O-Lakes. Drag races, waterside bars- it's a popping party scene. While the mix of crowds and cocktails can be dangerous, so is the fact some people have no training in the proper way to operate a boat.

ABC7's Ben Bradley asks, "You can come out with no training whatsoever?"

"Yeah, in the State of Illinois, if you can afford to buy a boat, pay the registration, you can come out on the water," said Larkey.

Tony Borcia's family sees their loss as a chance to change the boating culture.

"There's blood on the hands of anyone who knows that this is going on, and yet, condones this and encourages this," said Jim Borcia, whose son was killed in a boat crash.

It's not just a problem on the Chain-O-Lakes. State data show accident and injury numbers are similar on Lake Michigan.

The Borcia family would like to see rules changed to restrict speed and size of boats on the chain, and to see people who are convicted of boating while under the influence of drugs or alcohol lose their driver's license.

U.S. Coast Guard Boating Safety Tips

For more information on the Borcia family's Y-noT Project, visit: http://www.ynotproject.com/


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