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July 2, 2009

Game Wardens to Increase Water Safety Patrols over July 4 Weekend

AUSTIN, Texas — State officials who in March feared a repeat of 2008’s near-record boating fatality numbers now say a quiet July 4 holiday weekend could put Texas on track for the lowest number of boating deaths in years.

In an effort to make Texas waterways safer, Texas Game Wardens will be adding boats and officers to water safety patrols on busy lakes near the state’s major urban areas this weekend.

In 2008, 61 boaters died in Texas, tying the 10-year high (2002). By July 3 last year, the grim count was already at 36 fatalities, with four multiple-fatality accidents. In the same time period this year, 20 boaters have died in Texas with only two multiple-fatality accidents.

"We certainly don’t want people to become complacent on the water," said Texas Game Warden Maj. Alfonso Campos, chief of marine enforcement for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. "Even one boating fatality is too many, because in almost every instance it could have been prevented. Still, things are looking better this year."

Campos attributed the drop in deaths to stepped-up enforcement of boating safety laws on the water and increased public awareness.

Game wardens also participated in Operation Dry Water last weekend, a coordinated, national weekend of alcohol detection and enforcement aimed at reducing the number of alcohol-related deaths and fostering a stronger and more visible deterrent to alcohol use on the water. The operation netted 16 arrests of drunk boaters.

A "no refusal" weekend on Lake Conroe over the Memorial Day holiday weekend resulted in eight Boating While Intoxicated arrests and more than 100 citations there. No serious accidents and no deaths were reported for the weekend. Another county-wide BWI/DWI enforcement effort is slated for Montgomery County this weekend.

No refusal" weekends employ on-site judges, search warrants and blood draws to gather evidence from individuals suspected of Boating While Intoxicated or Driving While Intoxicated and involve roving, mobile DWI/BWI intoxilyzer units.

Over the July 4 holiday, officials hope to replicate the Lake Conroe results with no refusal weekends in Denton, Tarrant, Grayson, McLennan and Johnson Counties. In the North Texas region that includes Lakes Possum Kingdom, Texoma, Waco, and the entire DFW Metroplex, TPWD law enforcement officers from around the state will join local game wardens for water safety patrols.

The July 4, 2008, holiday weekend saw 20 injuries due to boating accidents, but no fatalities. Campos said that following a few common-sense rules can lower the number of injuries and keep the number of boating deaths over the weekend at zero this year.

"Wear a life jacket. It’s required for children under the age of 13 and for operators of personal watercraft (PWCs), but it’s a really good idea for anyone," he said. "We also encourage anyone who is using alcohol on the water to designate a sober driver for the boat and for a safe ride home."

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AR 2009-07-02

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