Raleigh, N.C. — The House voted unanimously Thursday to increase the penalty for impaired boat operators who seriously injure or kill someone.
House Bill 958 is named after Sheyenne Marshall, a Cabarrus County teenager who was killed on Lake Norman on July 4, 2015.
"Sheyenne Marshall was a very beautiful 17-year-old young lady with a love for life and a lot going for her," said bill sponsor Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus. "She was on a kneeboard, and a boater who was drunk nearly hit the boat. He swerved to miss the boat but ran over her and killed her.
"The sentencing for this act is way out of proportion to if the same thing had been done with a car. What’s the difference?" Pittman asked.
Under current law, boating while impaired is a Class 2 misdemeanor. The measure creates new felony offenses for impaired boaters who cause serious injury or death, equal to the same charges for impaired drivers.
Pittman said seven people were killed and many more were injured in alcohol-related boating accidents in North Carolina last year.
Rep. John Fraley, R-Iredell, said he went out on patrol with the same group of Lake Norman wildlife officers who happened to have been first on the scene of Marshall's accident.
"The officer told me, 'We really need to have some real penalty involved in accidents like this that seriously injure or kill someone,'" Fraley said.
The measure moves next to the Senate. If it passes, the new penalties will take effect Dec. 1.