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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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