Raleigh, N.C. — A proposal to create felony offenses for killing or seriously injuring someone while piloting a boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol is headed to the House floor.
House Bill 958, which cleared the House Judiciary I Committee on Wednesday, has been dubbed Sheyenne's Law in honor of Sheyenne Marshall, a 17-year-old who was hit and killed by a boat on Lake Norman last July 4. Authorities later charged the boater with boating while impaired.
Sponsor Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus, said Marshall's family was dismayed to find that the state punishes people who hurt or kill someone while drunk far more severely than if they are behind the wheel of a car instead of the wheel of a boat.
"If you're severely injured or killed by either a drunk driver or a drunk boater, it's the same horror to the family," Pittman said. "What this bill basically does is equalize the penalties."
According to the state Wildlife Resources Commission, which patrols waterways statewide, 23 people have been killed and 53 seriously hurt by impaired boaters since 2011. More than 1,000 citations for boating while impaired have been handed out during that period.
Sponsor Rep. John Fraley, R-Iredell, said the idea of tougher penalties for impaired boating has "100 percent support from the people that are on the water," noting that he has spoken to boaters and boating groups about it.