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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. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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