Tougher BWI Penalties Proposed After Fatality

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State Sen. Charles Fuschillo, Jr. (R-Merrick) comforts Michelle Maninno, whose husband, Christopher, police said was killed by a BWI suspect June 23 (Caitlin Breen/Long Island Press)

New York State lawmakers are proposing to make penalties for drunken boating more in line with drunken-driving laws and requiring all boaters to pass a safety course in order to prevent fatalities such as recent tragedies on Long Island waterways.

State Sen. Charles Fuschillo, Jr. (R-Merrick) announced legislation Thursday that would make boating while intoxicated a felony if a child is aboard, increase penalties for those with blood alcohol contents of 0.18 percent or higher and have a BWI result in a driver’s license suspension. The legal limit for BWI is 0.08 percent, same as DWI.

“Boats operated by intoxicated individuals are as dangerous a weapon as cars driven by drunk drivers,” Fuschillo said during a news conference at Wantagh Park Marina. “Our laws do not reflect that right now, and that must change.”

Fuschillo was flanked by fellow lawmakers and relatives of Christopher Maninno, who was killed when a speedboat crashed into the fishing vessel the West Babylon man was on in the Great South Bay last month. Suffolk County police charged the boater who allegedly caused the crash with BWI.

“Operating a boat means responsibility for yourself and everyone out there,” said Michelle Maninno, Christopher’s widow, with her two children and mother-in-law by her side. After a moment, she added: “How do you do that? What was taken from me can never be replaced.”

If the bill becomes law, New York would join 23 other states including New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont that call for boating safety courses prior to operation of a boat.

Fuschillo’s bill would also ensure that DWI, BWI and snowmobiling under the influence charges are linked, so repeat offenders receive stiffer penalties for prior alcohol-related arrests.

The proposal comes two weeks after a boat carrying 27 July Fourth fireworks revelers capsized and sank in Oyster Bay, killing three children. Nassau County police are continuing the investigation into that case, but have said alcohol does not appear to be a factor.