The Law Offices of John Phebus

Boating while intoxicated investigation results in drowning death

A recent case involving the drowning death of an Arizona State University student provides a tragic example of what we would otherwise think of as an ordinary DWI arrest.

To begin with, the underlying vehicle stop was not one of driving while under the influence, but rather boating while intoxicated. A police officer in a water patrol boat had apprehended and handcuffed the man in another boat, based on suspicion that he was intoxicated.

The 20-year-old student was transferred to the police boat, which started to transport him to shore. The police officer explained that it is difficult to perform field sobriety tests on the water.

Unfortunately, the suspect never got the chance to take those tests.

At some point during the ride to shore the suspected drunk boater somehow fell off the boat. Although he was purportedly wearing a life vest, police divers recovered the body well below the surface of the water.

People often think of DWI incidents as being cut-and-dry affairs, but as this case shows caution and prudence on the part of the police are still required in every instance to protect the rights and safety of defendants.

Questions that remain unanswered in this case, for instance, may include whether the police officer exercised the proper degree of care to make sure that the handcuffed man was securely in the patrol boat while it was underway, and whether the boat was traveling at a rate of speed that would minimize the risk of that man falling overboard.

There can be many variables in drunk driving cases that can lead to devastating outcomes. It is critical that the rights of drunk driving suspects and defendants are protected.


The Kansas City Star, "Officials investigate drowning of handcuffed man at Lake of the Ozarks," June 3, 2014

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