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Fatal accident leads COA to examine boating statute

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A boat operator’s appeal of his convictions stemming from a fatal accident on Lake Monroe in 2010 split the Indiana Court of Appeals as to whether I.C. 14-15-4-1 is unconstitutional as applied.

Winston Wood was 19 years old when he and two friends were wakeboarding on the lake. He was driving his father’s boat when it collided with a boat driven by James Collier. Neither saw each other until the boats hit. The accident killed Collier’s wife and grandson, and injured Collier’s leg. Two other grandchildren on Collier’s boat were uninjured. Wood and his friends were also not injured.

Wood dove into the water toward Susan Collier, but he returned to his boat and drove it to the Fourwinds Marina after realizing he could not help Susan Collier. His friend called 911 and the operator told them to stay at the marina until authorities arrived. They believed their boat was taking on water.

The state charged Wood under I.C. 14-15-4-1 with leaving the scene of a boating accident resulting in the deaths of Susan Collier and grandson Gage, Class C felonies, and leaving the scene of a boating accident resulting in serious bodily injury to James Collier, a Class D felony. The statute outlines what the operator of a boat involved in an accident or collision resulting in injury or death or damage shall do.

In Winston K. Wood v. State of Indiana, 53A05-1208-CR-423, Judges Melissa May and John Baker found sufficient evidence supported Wood violated the boating statute, but his three convictions of leaving the scene of a boating accident subjected him to double jeopardy, “as he was punished three times for an act – leaving the scene of an accident – he committed only once,” May wrote. Based on Nield v. State, 677 N.E.2d 79 (Ind. Ct. App. 1997), his act of leaving the scene can only support one conviction under the statute. The majority remanded for the trial court to dismiss one Class C felony conviction and the Class D felony conviction and to accordingly resentence Wood and reimburse the fines it imposed for those additional convictions.

The majority declined to find the statute unconstitutional as applied to Wood, but noted that the requirements of 14-15-4-1 will, in many emergency situations, “require behavior that defies logic, and engaging in innocent, and even advisable, behavior can leave one in violation of the statute,” May wrote. “This statute permits no consideration of what is reasonable in any given emergency situation; nor does it permit citizens to engage in any balancing of considerations that arise in typical emergencies and are likely required by other statutes.”

The majority encouraged the General Assembly to address these concerns.

Judge James Kirsch dissented, finding I.C. 14-15-4-1 is unconstitutional as applied.

“It is unquestioned that Wood claimed that he and his passengers were subject to significant peril and that he acted reasonably in moving his boat and its passengers to the marina. The statute did not give Wood fair notice that it was forbidden conduct to leave the scene of the accident even if Wood feared for his safety or that of his passengers and that necessity demanded that he leave the immediate accident scene.”

 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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