MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The gentle waves at Lake Martin were an intoxicating reminder why so many come here to chase a thrill, chill and have a beverage or two; therein lies the problem - some boaters take it to the extreme.
“It’s a little bit hard to change the mindset of people," said Alabama Marine Police Commander Capt. Gary Buchanan.
Buchanan has seen his share of tragedies and fatalities in his 20-plus-year career. So far this year in Alabama, there have been eight boating fatalities on state waterways, a sobering reality check for Chase Bonner of Pensacola, Florida, as he prepared his boat for an outing with friends Wednesday on Lake Martin Wednesday afternoon.
“I’m not a boat captain and don’t have my own boat, so I don’t drink and boat," said Bonner.
Capt. Buchanan wasn’t sure how many of those eight fatalities were alcohol-related, if alcohol was involved. What we do know is there are around 270,000 registered boaters in Alabama.
“It has changed in the past 20 years. There are more people that have designated drivers now than in the past," said Buchanan.
As for the Friday-night fatality, no clear answer for now who was at fault and the circumstances surrounding the crash. Marine police say David Goodling of Auburn died in the crash and Norman Ray Harris was injured in the near head-on collision.
The two boats involved in the crash have since been impounded and are being processed for evidence by state investigators.
Buchanan says his greatest dread as a marine trooper is having to break the sad news to a family especially when alcohol was involved.
“These are people whose lives are changed forever," he said.
“And I think that disconnect is really why a lot of people don’t assume drinking and boating is just as dangerous as drinking and driving," said Bonner.
Chase Bonner says that won’t be the case with him Wednesday; no taking chances with the lives of four close friends and a 21-footer.