- Associated Press - Monday, September 7, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A new Arkansas law prompted by the deaths of two University of Arkansas students makes driving a boat while intoxicated as serious as driving a car while impaired.

The law, which went into effect this summer, was enacted following the deaths of William Lewis “Trey” Varner III of Texarkana, Arkansas, and Rachel Nicole Swetnam of Grove, Oklahoma, both 21, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Monday (https://bit.ly/1XCecwQ ).

They died on May 14, 2013, at Grand Lake in northeastern Oklahoma when a boat they were in slammed into a docked, unoccupied houseboat. The driver of the boat had a blood alcohol level of 0.18 percent - more than twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

The accident led Sandy Varner, Trey Varner’s mother, to push for changes to DWI laws.

“I was shocked to learn that getting charged with driving while intoxicated in a boat didn’t count on your record for driving a car (in Oklahoma),” she said. “I went home and found out it didn’t count in Arkansas, either.”

Varner went to her state senator, Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, who agreed that the law needed to be changed.

“The guy who drives the boat is usually the one who owns it,” Hickey said. “That means he’s probably driving to and from the lake with the boat on his trailer. So think about that. If he’s drunk on the lake, he’s drunk on the 30 miles on the trip home, too.”

Hickey filed legislation that made changes to the DWI law and related measures that was supported by other victims of drunken-boating accidents.

“The whole issue had been under the radar all this time,” Sandy Varner said. “There was some very emotional testimony for this bill from people who had similar stories to tell. It became a really collaborative effort.”

Before the measure became law, a boating while intoxicated or boating under the influence offense would be mentioned on an offender’s driving record and could be considered by a judge in sentencing in future DWI or DUI offenses. A boating while intoxicated offense now requires suspension of a violator’s driver’s license and vehicle registration, the same penalty as a DWI in a car.


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com

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