OSAGE BEACH, Mo. – Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial kick-off to summer, especially at the Lake of the Ozarks. With a beautiful forecast on tap, many will be headed to the lake.
According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, eight people were arrested for boating while intoxicated (BWI) during last year’s holiday weekend. There were also 12 boating accidents which left one dead and three others injured.
While the water was still Thursday because of cooler temperatures, some braved the rain and came to the Marina at Lake of the Ozark State Park to prepare their boats for summertime.
“Memorial Day weekend represents the unofficial kickoff of summer and in turn, a busy boating season,” Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) Captain John Hotz said Thursday.
It’s also the season of increased boating accidents throughout Missouri. Alcohol was the leading factor in nearly 30% of the boating deaths in the Show Me State in recent years.
“Alcohol use is the leading cause of fatal boating incidents,” U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Ellis James said. “Not only is boating under the influence just as illegal as driving under the influence, but it’s also just as dangerous.”
During a press conference for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) joined by MSHP and the U.S. Coast Guard, MADD President Alex Otte told those in attendance how lucky she is.
“My offender was not driving a car, he was driving a 17-foot bass boat, but he nearly killed me all the same,” Otte said.
Otte was 12 years old when she went out boating with her family behind their house on a lake in Kentucky. She was on a personal watercraft waiting for her mom and brother to dock the boat when she saw a bass boat driving too fast under a bridge.
“The boat hit me going over 60 miles per hour, threw me off the jet ski,” Otte explained. “I landed face down in the water. The boat went up over the jet ski and came down on top of my body before it sunk.”
She said the driver was three times over the legal limit of alcohol. The driver of the boat was only charged a $250 fine and it was his fourth offense while behind the wheel of a boat.
“Broke my neck, broke my collarbone, lacerated my liver, and shattered both of my femurs,” Otte said. “They were unable to put my femurs back together, so I now have metal roads in place of bone in both my thighs.
Otte also has a prosthetic leg due to the propeller of the boat landing on top of her.
“My left leg was under the water just enough that it only required stitches, but my right leg was severed,” Otte said. “My parents and brother were told to say goodbye because there was no way I would survive the helicopter ride to the hospital.”
She said she spent a week in a coma and several weeks in the intensive care unit (ICU).
MSHP and the U.S. Coast Guard said a boat operator is likely to feel the effects of alcohol fast than the driver of a car.
“The boats’ rocking motion, the engine vibration, the noise along with the sun and the wind can intensify the effects of alcohol,” James said.
This weekend at Lake of the Ozarks, the MSHP and U.S. Coast Guard will have crews patrolling the water to keep people safe.
“Encourage whoever you’re out with that there is a plan in place, that you know that you all can go out,” James said. “Yes, we want you to come out, we want you to have fun, but we want you to be safe.”
Before the pandemic, the lake would average 5.5 million visitors a year. It was two years ago Memorial Day weekend when the Lake of the Ozarks made national news after videos surfaced of a crowded pool and lack of social distancing at the height of COVID.
If you are pulled over for boating while intoxicated in Missouri, it can be a class B misdemeanor. Last year, MSHP said it made 72 arrests for BWI statewide and alcohol was a contributing factor in seven fatal boating crashes. In Missouri, a BWI does not affect your driving record.