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Lawmaker’s crash renews focus on BUI

A late-summer accident involving a Maryland lawmaker who admitted to boating while he was drunk again has raised the red flag that alcohol and boating don’t mix.

“No one, no one should be drinking and operating a motor vehicle or powerboat,” says state delegate Donald Dwyer, 54, who spoke at a press conference outside the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore the day after the accident. “I deeply regret my actions and ask for forgiveness from the public,” he said from a wheelchair, wearing a neck brace and foot cast.

Dwyer, a three-term Republican from Pasadena and a member of the Maryland House Judiciary Committee, acknowledged that his blood alcohol content was 0.2, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08, when he drove his 26-foot Baja, The Legislator, into an 18-foot Bayliner.

The accident occurred about 7 p.m. Aug. 22 on the Magothy River near Gibson Island on a clear, pleasant Wednesday evening. The Bayliner was carrying three children and two men and was towing tubes with two more children on them. Three of the children — ages 5, 7 and 12 — and Dwyer and his passenger, John E. Moran IV, a 2006 candidate for Anne Arundel County sheriff, were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.

“There was one boat flying — it seemed like full throttle — and another towing kids,” a man who lives on the river and saw the accident says in his call to a 911 operator. He and two other good Samaritan boaters pulled the victims from the water.

Dwyer’s Baja sank to its gunwales, with a piece of the port quarter ripped out. The Bayliner made it to a private dock under its own power.

There were immediate calls for Dwyer’s resignation, but Maryland House Minority Leader Anthony O’Donnell and Minority Whip Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio counseled patience until police complete their investigation.

Maryland Natural Resources Police Sgt. Brian Albert says no charges will be filed until the investigation is complete and toxicology test results from the Maryland state police laboratory are in. Dwyer did not say how he knew his blood alcohol content was 0.2. Albert says technicians in the emergency room likely drew and tested Dwyer’s blood for alcohol to help the attending physician treat him. If charged with boating under the influence, Dwyer could face a maximum fine of $1,000 and one year in prison.

Maryland’s boating fatalities spiked in 2011 at 24, nearly double the 13 deaths reported in 2010 and far more than the 17, 9 and 10 deaths reported in the three years before that. Albert says his department attributes the spike to a long 2011 boating season that kicked off earlier than usual — in March — because of warm weather. He says fatalities were at nine in mid-September this year, with the busiest boating months over. Still, he says that six of the boating deaths reported in 2011 were alcohol-related.

Maryland requires all boaters born before July 1, 1972, to be certified as having taken a boating safety course.

“We believe that education is the key,” Albert says. “We have a very strong and active education department. We try to get out there and tell people, ‘Even if you were born before 1972, take a boating safety course.’ And we are committed to aggressive enforcement of zero tolerance of boating while intoxicated.”

Albert says Dwyer’s collision could have been far worse. “We were lucky,” he says. “We were lucky someone wasn’t killed.”

November 2012 issue.