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Fake distress calls are costly

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Who hasn't seen newspaper or television reports of U.S. Coast Guard vessels rescuing passengers and crews of sinking fishing boats or cruise liners that experienced some type of emergency? The Coast Guard has responded to requests for help for more than 200 years. All distress calls are answered as fast as possible, but what happens to people who play a hoax with a marine radio or cell phone? It's no different than kids pulling a fire alarm in an apartment building, running away and thinking it's funny when, of course, it never is.

During this busy boating season, a false distress call might divert a Coast Guard boat from answering a real emergency.

A few years ago, a U.S. District Judge in western Washington state sentenced a 31-year-old resident of Aberdeen to 12 months and one day imprisonment to be followed by three years of supervised release for one count of communicating a false distress message to the Coast Guard. James Garrett Baldwin also was ordered to pay $194,587 in restitution to the Coast Guard. Obviously, answering a distress call isn't cheap.

Then came the Coast Guard Investigative Services, which worked with the Federal Communications Commission and the Northern California U.S. Attorney's office to end a three-year hoax-calling spree by a Salinas, Calif., sicko who was eventually sentenced to two years imprisonment and ordered to pay a $29,000 reimbursement to the Coast Guard.

What about the 49-year-old Selmer, Tenn., woman who pleaded guilty in 2004 in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids, Mich., to various charges, including making a false distress call to the Coast Guard? She was sentenced to two years in a federal prison and was ordered to pay $56,958.30 in restitution to the Coast Guard.

The point I'm making here is that a legitimate call for help will be answered free of charge, but hoax calls can land you in a heap of trouble. The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Public Affairs office reminds us that willfully communicating a false distress calls is a federal felony. Penalties can include up to six years in prison, $250,000 fine, $5,000 civil penalty and the possible reimbursement to the Coast Guard for the cost of performing the search.

- Country music singers and fans recently gathered at Nashville's J. Percy Priest Lake to honor the late Porter Wagoner, one of the true stars of the Nashville sound. Do you recall his TV show on which he introduced a pretty blonde singer named Dolly Parton? I think you will agree that Miss Dolly has come a long way since those days in the 1960s.

But back to Porter Waggoner, who passed away last month. A big fishing event was held on the lake to honor his memory and along the way raise some funds for the Opry Trust Fund. Wagoner was an avid angler who rarely missed an opportunity to wet a line. Many friends and fans joined in the fun, including singer Vince Gill and pro fishing stars Bill Dance, Roland Martin, Jimmy Houston, Gary Yamamoto and Tom Mann Jr.

- The public is invited to the next meeting of the Potomac River Smallmouth Club on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Vienna Fire Station. The guest speaker will be Jeff Little, owner of Blue Ridge Kayak Fishing and a member of the pro staff for Wilderness Systems, Hawg Head Baits and St. Croix Fishing Rods. Little will address certain techniques anglers can use to reduce their frustration level and keep their lures in the water longer. He will share common summertime patterns for smallmouths and discuss the advantages of using specific rods that match the lures anglers use. For more information, contact Ernie at kiko13@comcast.net.

c@washingtontimes.com.