Five years after an intoxicated father’s 2-year-old boy disappeared on Carter Lake, the laws have become stricter. But boating under the influence continues to be just as troublesome at state and local levels.
Shay Smith was presumed drowned in a July, 15 2006, incident in which the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office said he fell from an inflatable raft tied to the back of a boat. Despite several searches, his body was never recovered.
His father, Gil Smith was not charged with drunken boating because his blood-alcohol content, at more than .08, was below the legal limit at that time.
Gil Smith, 49, pleaded guilty to child abuse and is serving time at a prison in Sterling for an unrelated drunken-driving charge and other charges not related to the incident.
Former Larimer County Sheriff’s Jim Alderden said the case remains haunting.
“Those cases stick with you and that one did, definitely. There were a number of other searches that we didn’t even report to the media,” Alderden said. “We never did locate any signs of little Shay.”
Stiffer laws showing little impact on BUI
Shay’s death led to laws in 2008 that bumped the blood-alcohol level for BUI in Colorado from .10 to .08, the same as driving under the influence. In addition, people operating non-motorized crafts such as canoes and rafts are now subject to BUI in lakes and rivers. More on Colorado Alcohol Awareness Classes.
“I don’t think we’re making any more arrests for the .08 than we did for the .10,” said Dan Rieves with Larimer County Natural Resources, adding that most of the arrests are for more than .10 blood-alcohol content.
Rieves said rangers have handed out five BUIs at Horsetooth Reservoir this year, two of which were on Fourth of July weekend. He also said about three to four have been given on Carter Lake.
He said that after averaging an annual BUI rate of five to 10 for the past few years, the number of BUIs in 2011 ap-pears to be trending higher.
There have been at least two alcohol-related fatalities on county waters since the Shay Smith incident: One was a drowning and the other was the result of a person getting run over by an intoxicated boater, Rieves said.
Rieves said that in the wake of the 2006 incident, there was a higher boating safety awareness on local lakes, and peo-ple were quicker to flag down rangers regarding possible issues.
“There was more vigilance there for quite a while,” he said of Carter Lake, adding that awareness “kind of dissipated” the way the public’s concern for security did after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Rieves said that with drunken driving on streets, people appear to be well aware of the dangers. But there’s a “perpetual education cycle” with BUI.
There’s no open container law, and it’s a “looser atmosphere” with people boating for recreation. Much can be learned if drivers of boats simply became educated through the use of simple online alcohol awareness classes.