A crash between a boat and a personal watercraft on Virginia's Smith Mountain Lake left a 17-year-old girl from North Carolina dead and the 19-year-old operating the PWC seriously injured. The deadly collision on the water in Pittsylvania County occurred shortly before 8 pm on July 3, 2016.
The 21-foot speed boat and the PWC collided while exiting a cove between the Anthony Ford boat ramp and Vista Point. Witnesses described the lake as very crowded on the evening before the Fourth of July. People also told reporters that they had witnessed numerous incidents throughout the day when boaters and PWC operators cut off each other while approaching and leaving slips and anchorages.
Boaters must remember that lakes have many of the same rules of the road as highways. Operators must obey speed limits in boat channels and yield to approaching craft. They must also remain sober.
In addition to negligence or recklessness in failing to yield right of way, investigators from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries are looking into boating while intoxicated as a cause of the fatal wreck. Since neither the man piloting the boat nor the person driving the PWC was 21, any BWI charge would be compounded by drinking underage.
Regardless of who was at fault for causing the crash between the boat and the personal watercraft on Smith Mountain Lake, the family of the teen who lost her life may have strong grounds for filing a wrongful death claim. Both men had legal duties to act in ways that protected the lives and health of everyone else on the water. One or both of them appear to have failed to meet that duty.