Charlotte McCue may be saving lives, even in death.
Charlotte is the 8-year-old California girl who died in her mother’s arms on Lake George last summer after the boat she was riding in with her family was struck by another boat driven by an operator reportedly under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
Sometimes, deaths like these are chalked up as tragic and sad, and people move on.
But that doesn’t seem to be the case this time.
It instead has served as a wakeup call to the dangers of boating while intoxicated (BWI). And the proof that it’s working is in the 19 arrests made on Lake George this summer of boaters under the influence.
In the previous three years, the agencies patrolling the lake had only made six BWI arrests — combined.
The child’s unnecessary death prompted more calls for more patrols by the agencies responsible for the lake, including the Warren County Sheriff’s Department and the Lake George Park Commission. They added a new night patrol — Charlotte’s boat was struck at 8:30 at night — which resulted in eight BWI arrests.
Officials in other lakes also stepped up patrols in the wake of the accident and the subsequent publicity of the trial of suspect Alexander West that took place this summer.
In addition to the higher numbers of BWI arrests, the Park Commission noted a significant drop in the number of boating crashes on the lake — from 21 a year ago to 8 this year.
None of the accidents resulted in injuries
That’s not a statistical anomaly. That’s progress.
The progress comes from the combined educational and enforcement efforts.
With the stepped up patrols, it’s likely boaters might have been driving a little more carefully. With reports that law enforcement was making actual arrests, it’s likely boaters started to take the issue seriously and maybe didn’t take the chance they once would have.
Charlotte’s death brought more public awareness to the problem of boating while intoxicated, which may have resulted in the greater number of people coming forward to report drunk boaters to authorities.
Another strong message: After 20 years, police this summer shut down a popular boat party, Log Bay Day, at which West had been partying earlier the day of the fatal crash and which celebrated a culture of drunken boating on the lake. Shutting down this disaster-in-the-making sent the message to boaters that this conduct is no longer be tolerated.
Other efforts, such as a cooperative effort between boat rental companies and the Lake George Association to require potential renters to watch a boating safety video before taking out a boat may have helped contribute to more careful boating operations.
The problem of drunken boating on Lake George and other lakes still hasn’t been solved. Clearly, the 19 people who were arrested for BWI didn’t get the message.
And even with stepped-up patrols, there’s no way to catch everyone who partakes in this potentially deadly practice.
But clearly, Charlotte McCue’s death struck a chord with law enforcement officials, boaters and the public, and prompted real action to prevent a similar tragedy from befalling another family and another child.
Let’s hope this crackdown and public awareness is only the beginning.