Bill makes death or injury by impaired boater felony

RALEIGH — The North Carolina House of Representatives passed legislation this week that increases the penalty for impaired boating resulting in death or injury to a felony.

House Bill 958 is officially referred to as Sheyenne’s Law. Sheyenne Marshall, 17, was struck and killed by a boat on Lake Norman last Independence Day. The man piloting the boat was later deemed to have been under the influence of alcohol and charged with boating while impaired.

Currently, deaths or serious injuries by boat as a result of the boater’s being intoxicated by drugs or alcohol do not warrant the same stiff penalties as accidents caused by intoxicated motor vehicle drivers. Under current law, boating while impaired is a misdemeanor with a $250 fine.

Dozens of people have been seriously injured or killed by impaired boaters in North Carolina over the last five years, according to the Wildlife Resources Commission.

Sheyenne’s Law would create new classes of punishment for accidental death, serious injury, and aggravated serious injury by impaired boaters, as well as new penalties for repeat offenders. New penalties range from a Class B2 felony for repeat death offenders, to Class F felonies for impaired boaters who cause serious injury to another person.

The legislation was passed unanimously on the House floor Thursday. It now heads to the North Carolina Senate for final passage, at which point it would be presented to Gov. Pat McCrory for signature.