Lake Officials Caution Boaters to Have a Safe, Sober Holiday

Although the summer solstice doesn't actually arrive for nearly another month, many people see Memorial Day weekend as the start of summer and today as the unofficial first day of summer.

With the scorching days of summer, Oklahomans often turn to one of the state's many lakes to cool off. Oklahoma features more than 200 man-made lakes and boasts more than 55,600 miles of shoreline. Among the state's most popular lakes are Grand Lake O' the Cherokees, Lake Eufaula, Lake Texoma, Broken Bow Lake, and Lake Tenkiller.

With boaters and lake enthusiasts flocking to Oklahoma lakes this weekend, it is important to keep safety in mind while operating a boat or personal watercraft, particularly if alcohol is involved in one's lake recreation. Two weeks ago, two young people, including a former Miss Teen Oklahoma, were killed at Grand Lake when the boat on which they were passengers struck an unoccupied houseboat parked in a marina.

Six others were aboard the boat, but the man and woman killed were seated in the bow when it struck the 100-foot houseboat. They were pronounced dead at the scene of head and neck trauma after the 2012 Cobalt struck the houseboat hard enough to become embedded in the back wall with the motor resting on the deck.

The operator of the boat, 21-year-old John Deselms of Tulsa, was arrested on a complaint of operating a vessel while under the influence, or boating DUI, and released on medical bond. Police say Deselms admitted to drinking ten beers and a shot of tequila before the accident, and they list alcohol, excessive speed, and operator inattention as contributing factors on the accident report.

Deselms's attorney says that his client and the victims are "good kids from good families," and he notes that Deselms is grieving the loss of his two friends.

According to the 2012 Recreational Boating Statistics released earlier this month by the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety, Oklahoma saw twelve fatal boat accidents last year, resulting in fifteen deaths. Eight of those accidents involved alcohol, and the alcohol related boating accidents claimed three lives.

Oklahoma Highway Patrol Marine Enforcement Division Trooper Mark Brown lists the leading causes of boating accidents as:

  1. Human Error - including reckless driving, horseplay, and failure to follow navigation rules
  2. Alcohol
Often, the use of alcohol breeds reckless driving, horseplay, and an inability to safely follow boating navigation rules. The number of boating deaths on Oklahoma lakes does not take into account the number of drownings, which caused an additional 21 deaths in Oklahoma last year, down from a record of 55 in 2011.