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Teen Critically Injured by Reckless Personal Watercraft Operator

A15-year-old North Carolina girl suffered critical injures when the man operating the personal watercraft towing an innertube on which she was riding ran too close to a dock on Virginia’s Smith Mountain Lake. A 12-year-old boy also required medical treatment after the August 19, 2017, wreck.



Officers with Virginia’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries have filed charges for reckless operation of a personal watercraft and exceeding the capacity on a PWC. Three children were on the towed tube, bringing the number of passengers to four. A PWC’s capacity is generally restricted to the number of seats, and the DGIF’s webpage on personal watercraft regulations states, “It is unlawful to operate a PWC while carrying passengers in excess of the number for which the craft was designed by the manufacturer; including towed passengers.”

Bystanders saved the critically injured teen from the lake after she lost consciousness off the shore of the Water’s Edge community in Franklin County, VA. The girl was airlifted to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital and remained hospitalized four days after hitting the dock near the spot where Bull Run Creek joins Smith Mountain Lake.

A physical education instructor who had previously worked as a lifeguard was the first to reach the stricken teen. She told reporters that people noticed the PWC operator speeding and coming too close to the dock. The DGIF officers may have taken such descriptions into account when charging the man steering the personal watercraft with reckless operation.

As stated in section 29.1-738.03 of the Virginia Code “a person shall be guilty of reckless operation of a motorboat or vessel“ when he or she acts “recklessly or at a speed or in such a manner so as to endanger the life, limb or property of any person.” The statute lists four examples of recklessness on the water:


  1. Weaving through vessels which are underway, stopped, moored or at anchor while exceeding a reasonable speed under the circumstances and traffic conditions existing at the time;
  2. Following another vessel or person on water skis or other similar device, crossing the path of another vessel, or jumping the wake of another vessel more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard to the speed of both vessels and the traffic on and the condition of the waters at the time;
  3. Crossing between the towing vessel and a person on water skis or other device; or
  4. Steering toward an object or person and turning sharply in close proximity to such object or person in order to spray or attempt to spray the object or person with the wash or jet spray of the personal watercraft.


Accidents like this one on Smith Mountain Lake can happen on any body of water when boaters and PWC operators do not act safely. While boating appears to offer a freedom and margin for error generally unavailable to drivers, incidents such as this one that left a North Carolina critically injured illustrate that life-threatening danger is always just one poor choice away.


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