A fatal boating accident is behind a new state law that could deepen penalties for intoxicated operators. A year ago, ten-year-old Tony Borcia went boating with his dad and siblings on a string of lakes connected by the Fox River. While tubing behind the boat, Tony fell off. Before his family could pick him up, a speed boat struck and killed him.
“The first few days after Tony’s death were a blur. During that time I learned the driver of the boat was drunk. And then a few days later I learned that he was also high on cocaine.” -Margaret Borcia, mother
The new law says a boat operator who’s intoxicated or refuses to submit to blood alcohol testing could lose his license to drive a car. It only applies if there’s a serious accident or death.
According to the Governor's office, in 2012, there were 101 boating-related accidents on Illinois waters, resulting in 17 deaths and 77 injuries. Alcohol use was a contributing factor in 13 of the accidents and five of the fatalities.
- The new law, which takes effect immediately, clarifies that a person being towed by a watercraft, such as a skier, tuber or parasailer, is considered part of the total number of passengers for purposes of a boat’s carrying capacity. The clarification will curb overcrowding by closing a loophole for boat operators claiming that a passenger being towed is not part of the watercraft’s overall capacity.
- The new law also adds flashing blue lights to the list of colored lights necessary for a watercraft to be designated an authorized emergency watercraft. This will enable Illinois Conservation Police, whose boats use flashing blue lights, to better enforce the law. Finally, the legislation boosts penalties on boat rental operators who fail to properly equip a rental craft with life jackets, a fire extinguisher or lighting.
Illinois Public Radio's Amanda Vinicky contributed to this report.