The judge stared crossly at the defendant before him, a clean-cut young man found guilty of killing a young girl in a boating accident.
The young man was drunk when his boat ran over the girl’s jet ski.
“It’s the judgment of the court that the defendant be sentenced to 22 years in the Department of Corrections,” the judge said sternly.
The young man sobbed as a deputy cuffed him and led him from the courtroom on his way to prison. And video cameras caught every second of it.
It was a dramatization for an upcoming video about OUI, which stands for operating under the influence, the legal term for driving a boat while intoxicated.
But the actors are not really actors: They are judges and prosecutors and even a DUI defense attorney who once acted in TV commercials.
And the film’s producer, Lex Anderson, is justice of the peace for the Peoria Justice Court, where you will likely end up if you get an OUI ticket at Lake Pleasant.
Anderson has presided over 114 OUI cases in the past 12 months, nearly half of the 286 cases in Maricopa County over the past year.
Only the two counties on the Colorado River come close. In 2004, 101 boaters in La Paz County and 122 in Mohave County were tried on OUI charges.
Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies write four or five such tickets every summer weekend at Lake Pleasant. And with the July 4th holiday approaching, they estimate there’ll be as many as 3,000 boaters at Lake Pleasant, just one of the five county lakes that support motorized watercraft.
Who drives a boat drunk?
“It’s everybody,” says Capt. Don Schneidmiller of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s every economic level. We see people in little low-cost boats, high-end boats. It’s everybody.”
And that’s who Anderson wants to target. He wants to show how easily that extra beer can lead to serious injury or death.
“Nobody ever means for these things to happen,” Anderson said. “We just want to change some attitudes and let people know it can happen to you.”
This is the second educational film that Anderson has produced.
In 2003, he created a film about DUIs titled Crossing Deadly Lanes.
It has the requisite gory photos of fatal drunken-driving accidents.
It has interviews with victims’ families and prosecutors.
But more important, Anderson interviewed the drunken drivers in prison. And what’s most striking is that they are not hardened criminals but clean-cut citizens who never had a brush with the law until they got behind the wheel drunk and killed somebody.
They can’t believe it happened to them, and they express their remorse for the people they killed.
“There’s a lot of education out there that deals with the havoc you cause as a DUI driver, but I looked at — people by nature being somewhat selfish — what’s going to happen to me?” Anderson said.
This year, Anderson decided to do a film about OUI.
He hears the cases in his court, and he has also issued search warrants in a couple of high-profile boating deaths that were alcohol-related. Those cases are tried in Maricopa County Superior Court because they are felonies instead of misdemeanors.
“We want to show that bad things happen to good people when they get behind the wheel whether it’s a boat or a car,” Anderson said.
He obtained a $35,000 grant from the state and hired the production company Go Media, which directed and filmed the DUI film for free. In July, they will be shooting a simulated accident at Lake Pleasant involving a boat and jet ski.
The video should be completed in September and, like the DUI video, will be available to agencies in and out of the state.
“The intent of the video is to show what can happen with people who are under the influence,” said Jerry Porter, an associate presiding judge at Maricopa County Superior Court. Porter also plays the judge in the OUI video.
“You go out to the bar, you go out to the lake and you have a few drinks and you’re just having fun,” he said, “and the next thing you know you’ve killed somebody.”
The penalties for OUI are not as serious as for DUI.
You don’t lose a license on the first offense, although you can do jail time on the second or third and have your boat confiscated.
“To be honest, I’ve never seen a second or third offense,” said David Michael Cantor, an attorney who represents people charged with OUI and DUI.
But the potential for fatal accidents is very real.
Cantor said that many of his DUI clients claim that they are unlucky.
Cantor reminds them how quickly accidents happen with some of them fatal.
“Don’t sit here and tell me you’re unlucky,” he tells them. “You’re incredibly lucky because it’s one second away from seven to 21 years in prison.”
By the numbers
Watercraft accidents in Arizona in 2004:
Arizona Game and Fish Department
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