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Intoxicated Boater in St. Clair River Boating Accident Sentenced
|Author||Topic: Intoxicated Boater in St. Clair River Boating Accident Sentenced|
posted 01-25-2015 10:26 AM ET (US)
On a nice Sunday afternoon in August 2014, a horrible boating accident occurred on the St. Clair River, a very popular boating destination in southeast Michigan and Ontario. On the South Channel of the St. Clair River near Harsen's Island, a 25-foot BAJA powerboat was attempting to cross the wake of a cabin cruiser, but the Baja flew off the wake, into the air, and landed on the cabin top of the cruiser. Two people died on the cabin cruiser, and three others aboard were seriously injured. The impact of the Baja on the cabin cruiser was so forceful the flying bridge and cabin top of the cabin cruiser were completely broken free from the rest of the superstructure.
Earlier this week, on Tuesday, January 20, 2015, the driver of the Baja was sentenced to five to 15 years in prison. He had pled guilty in December to two counts of operating while intoxicated causing death and one count of driving while intoxicated causing serious injury.
More details of the sentencing at
Many of us in southeast Michigan have done a lot of boating on those waters. On a summer weekend they can be very crowded. And very dangerous.
posted 01-25-2015 10:44 AM ET (US)
If Brandon Verfaillie had used a gun, he would most likely have been convicted of two counts of manslaughter and received two life sentences.
Instead he used alcohol and a 29 foot Baja boat weighing in at approx 8,000 pounds to kill his victims. And he gets off with 5-15 years for their deaths and 2-5 years for the third count of driving while intoxicated causing serious injury? And the two sentences run concurrently... What a joke...
Murder is murder, either by knife, gun or motor vehicle. Brandon Verfaillie got off easy...
Makes you really wonder...
posted 01-25-2015 11:30 AM ET (US)
Um, your comment "Makes you really wonder....." about exactly what?
posted 01-25-2015 11:48 AM ET (US)
I remember reading about it when this incident happened last summer. Terrible.
A few thoughts:
No one and no sentence can bring back the lives and hopes and dreams that were stolen by this incident
I do not refer to this as an accident because a decision was made to operate a dangerous vehicle while intoxicated. That is no accident. The resulting damage and carnage was something that a reasonable person could infer might occur as a result of that decision.
Whether or not the sentence was just or not is left to others. I can imagine that 5 to 15 years is more than adequate time for this person to contemplate his poor decision and the ramifications thereof. He is likely to have an extremely difficult life in prison and afterwards...finding gainful employment, ever making enough to enjoy a hobby like boating again, etc. Give him a life sentence and he just costs us more money...and let him out after 15 years and he's likely to be unemployable and continue to be a burden on taxpayers, "the system", etc.
In the end, no one wins. We've all lost something. I'm losing tax money that could go toward something better/more constructive, and he's lost his chance at a good life, and the victims and their families have lost the most.
Leave the beer for the pier. Enjoy water on the water.
posted 01-25-2015 11:53 AM ET (US)
One other point, and this will be controversial. The final paragraph notes that there were other people aboard the Baja. None of those individuals were charged.
I know there is no law governing this, but I would suggest that those individuals should at least be held civilly liable for damages/restitution or something for allowing the operator to drive while drunk.
At the very least, they deserve a huge kick in the @SS for getting aboard a vessel that was being operated by someone who was blitzed. Speculation of course, but their BAC was probably just as high if not higher.
posted 01-25-2015 02:52 PM ET (US)
Agree with your last comment Dave, it seems others on board share some responsibility and should have pulled the keys or designated a sober driver.
There is nothing so compelling as to head out on a perfect hot summer day in your boat, good friends, gear, full coolers etc and want to have a cold one or a cocktail in hand while underway. Not get drunk and throttle down, just cruise. However, it's too risky for a long list of reasons and the well funded boat cops over here, Ottawa and Muskegon County, plus USCG have no problem reminding anyone they suspect is pounding cold ones or tequila. They've seen and cleaned up many tragedies over the years and no question drunks still operate boats and jet skis.
posted 01-25-2015 03:10 PM ET (US)
The police and coast guard are far outnumbered on Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River.
posted 01-25-2015 06:58 PM ET (US)
Some forum I was a member of many years ago was discussing alcohol and boating and several people chimed in saying that "drinking and boating go together" and acted like such behavior was an unalienable right.
I'm a geezer and remember those times when there were few restrictions on alcohol use on the water. And I was among the guilty on more than one occasion - would not drink and drive but somehow drinking and boating was "different".
Things have improved but not enough. I am always reminded by a relative who holds a 100 ton masters license that drinking in his situation is a felony. Now that makes you pay attention!
posted 01-25-2015 09:36 PM ET (US)
I'm not sure who the owner was, the defendant or someone else who may have also been on the vessel. Will have to check....
posted 01-26-2015 07:41 AM ET (US)
Makes you really wonder, if drinking a few beers while being at the helm was worth all the pain he has caused others...
Makes you really wonder why he was at the helm at all... He had already lost his motor vehicle license for a previous DUI in his car... Senior Assistant Prosecutor Mona Armstrong indicated Verfaillie's driver's license was suspended at the time of the crash for other alcohol violations. Why wasn't his privilege to operate his boat revoked as well?
Makes you really wonder how the survivors will heal and move on with their lives...
Makes you really wonder if justice will truly be served. He will most likely be released long before the maximum sentence of 15 years... Yes I agree, no amount of time behind bars will bring his victims back or ease the survivors physical and emotional pains...
My point is, we all need to think about the repercussions of our actions whether it's in a car, boat or plane...
posted 01-26-2015 09:37 AM ET (US)
On a related note, Michigan has amended its drinking-and-boating statute. Beginning March 15, 2015, it is illegal to operate a motorboat with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or more. See: http://www.legislature.mi.gov/%28S%28bklukw55aqas2f45ae1rxznc%29%29/ mileg.aspx?page=getobject&objectname=mcl-324-80176-amended .
posted 01-26-2015 10:40 AM ET (US)
The "cabin cruiser" is not precisely described in much of the reporting. It looks like a rather large boat. I'd say close to 40-feet, based on this on-the-scene home-video recording from youTube:
I believe the "cabin cruiser" was a Bayliner motor yacht. See:
The above also contains a first-hand account of the accident with very good details on the boats involved, their courses, and speeds.
posted 01-26-2015 10:51 AM ET (US)
Here is the first-person account that is reported in the linked article (above):
posted 01-26-2015 11:57 AM ET (US)
In the above account, the BAJA hits the cabin cruiser from an opposing course line, not an overtaking course. That means the wake which caused the BAJA to lose control could not have been the wake of the boat it struck, unless the BAJA did a 180-degree turn in a very short space and time. The wake that the BAJA was crossing which caused it to lose control must have been the wake of another boat, and that boat must have been in front of the "cabin cruiser."
If those assumptions are correct, it would seem that the proximate cause of the BAJA losing control was the wake of a third boat. Under the assumption that a boater is responsible for damage that occurs due to the wake created by their boat, one might find that this third boater has some responsibility in this accident.
By the way, based on many years of boating on Lake St. Clair and in that general area, there are an endless number of 40-foot or larger boats plowing along at near-planing speeds and creating very tall wakes. Rather than operate at 8-MPH and make very little wake, or operate at full speed and on-plan, making a moderate wake, many of the larger recreational boats plow along at 10 to 15-MPH making gigantic wakes. So many boats are operating like that in the area of this accident on a typical weekend afternoon they cause the water to become like the inside of a blender, with wakes and waves coming from all directions. There is also a strong current, which can make the waves steeper. It is one of the reasons that I seldom do any boating there on a summer weekend afternoon.
posted 01-26-2015 02:47 PM ET (US)
To those advocating holding the passengers of the Baja boat somehow liable, I would ask you this:
Where do you stop if you are going to expand the liability? Should the boat salesman that sold the owner the boat share some liability because he didn't do a thorough background check on the buyer and learn that he had previous DUIs? Should the owner of the cabin cruiser that was hit bear some responsibility for the injuries and death of his passengers because he was operating his boat in waters he probably knew were used by other boaters who may be drinking and boating? Should Baja Boat Co. somehow be liable for designing and selling a boat that was capable of going fast enough to launch itself into the air to a dangerous height which may result in damage or injury to others?
The responsible party, the owner and captain of the Baja, was held responsible for his negligent acts. This should be the end of the story. People who want to wag fingers and distribute blame need to realize the negligence and responsibility lie solely with the captain/driver of the Baja.
posted 01-26-2015 10:19 PM ET (US)
I agree with the above comment. Now if the driver who is guilty can somehow prove that he was influenced by the passengers, then I would say at that stage he or she could go after the individual or individuals in court that they feel were an bad influence that caused the guilty party to cause the accident. They would need convincing evidence but its a entirely a separate case and should be handled in that manner. It is entirely possible situation but like I said you need evidence.
posted 01-28-2015 10:08 PM ET (US)
I checked and found that even though he wasn't listed on the registration, he was in fact the owner. The boat was registered to his girlfriend, but it was determined that it was for insurance purposes.
Kevin - I recall someone from our office testified over in Lansing during the session prior to the bill passage. This case, along with another fatal from 3-4 years ago was discussed.
Tragedy all the way around.
Regards - Don
posted 01-29-2015 11:42 AM ET (US)
"Haa Mable", I cannot get insurance for my drug boat, because of a DUI on My Record. How about you signing for me?
Be careful what you sign for a friend. Insurance?
If we get carried away with retribution, the absolute responsibility gets cloudy. Since this is about responsibility for actions in a vehicle, the point of contact with the steering wheel should serve as a wake up in terms of responsibility.
If you watch the posted videos from some of these high speed wake encounters, such as (LOTO) Lake of the Ozarks and others. Control is lost immediately. Multuple wake sets would be impossible to predict.
Good Luck out there!
posted 01-30-2015 06:53 PM ET (US)
In many jurisdictions, parents can be held accountable for the results of underage drinking that occurs in their house. In some, I believe the parents don't even have to be home.
I'm not saying that immediate "responsibility" has to be assigned, but if you allow a friend to drive drunk and he kills somebody, or himself, I think a discussion is appropriate about whether or not you bear some responsibility. You had the opportunity to at least attempt to intervene and head off a tragedy.
I don't expect retribution. I just expect that responsible adults act....
posted 02-01-2015 10:23 AM ET (US)
Off with their heads!
Alcohol caused the deaths!
We learn nothing when the automatic pronouncements come forth.
The man has been sentenced. Families have been torn apart. The lawyers are still suing everyone, so they are happy. But we are learning nothing about behavior and boat operation.
Search LOTO 2012 BOAT CRASH, and watch the video if you have not or if You Can watch it. The injuries were most substantial and much worse than initially reported.
This was caused by a party and carnival attitude. No alcohol reported.
Any visit to the local launch ramp will show the general ability of the boating public, as well as some attitudes and expectations.
From my perspective:
Some of us have survived our inexperience to get to this point. Some of us try to learn from others. Some of us can still learn.
Good Luck to each and every one here!
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