Boating accident at Lake Sonoma claims a life
County of Sonoma
Hall of Justice
2796 Ventura Avenue
Santa Rosa, CA 95403 (707)565-2511 www.sonomasheriff.org
Boating accident at Lake Sonoma claims a life
Sunday, May 6, 2007 at 7:27, PM
On Sunday May 6th at 3:44 PM a Sheriff's patrol boat on Lake Sonoma was flagged down by another boater advising of a possible boating accident on the Warm Springs arm of Lake Sonoma near Jet Ski Cove. The Sheriff's boat responded to the scene and requested the Sheriff's Helicopter and the Army Corps of Engineers marine unit for assistance.
Upon arrival, deputies found an adult male stuck in the propeller of a Master craft ski boat. He was pronounced dead at the scene and was transported to the Coroner's Office after extrication. The identity of the male is being withheld pending notification of next of kin.
After a preliminary investigation it appears that the deceased male was a passenger in the same boat and had been sitting on the rear deck near the propellers, while the boat was backing, just prior to the accident.
The operator of the Ski Boat was arrested for boating under the influence of alcohol with injury, and was booked into the Sonoma County Jail. He was identified as Will Dawson, age 25, a resident of Petaluma. The investigation into then incident is ongoing. Anyone with information about this incident is urged to contact Sgt. Pacheco at the Lake Sonoma Marine Unit at 707-433-0728.
This incident is a serious reminder to the boating public at the start of the summer boating season that alcohol consumption and safe boating do not mix.
Prepared by Lt. Greg Contos - Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department
Petaluma driver in boating death has DUI history
Boat Propeller Kills Man On Lake Sonoma
LORI A. CARTERTHE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A boater arrested in connection with the death of his passenger in a suspected alcohol-related fatality on Lake Sonoma has a history of drunken driving, according to Sonoma County court records.
Will Dawson, 25, of Petaluma was arrested Sunday on suspicion of felony drunken driving of a boat after one of his passengers was killed when he fell or jumped off the rear swim step and was struck by the propeller, Sonoma County Sheriff's Sgt. Bob Pacheco said.
Deputies said Dawson was backing up the approximately 20-foot Mastercraft Xstar ski inboard motorboat near Rattlesnake Island in the southern arm of the lake when the incident occurred. The passenger was identified Monday as Mark Spier, 51, of Orland in Glenn County. He was wearing a life vest, Pacheco said, but his body became trapped under the boat and entwined with the propeller.
Since 1995, there have been at least 12 deaths at Lake Sonoma, four of which occurred as a result of boating accidents.
Dawson has two prior alcohol-related criminal cases in Sonoma County, including one initiated three months ago that is pending, according to court records.
Because of his history, police and prosecutors said, it is possible that the charges against Dawson in the Lake Sonoma case could eventually include a more serious felony such as vehicular manslaughter. Such a charge could potentially mean significant prison time if Dawson were convicted.
In December 2000, Dawson, who was 18 at the time, was arrested on a misdemeanor count of drunken driving.
A day after charges were filed, Dawson pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to three years' probation, ordered to complete first-offender's drunken driving school and had his driver's license restricted for three months.
A judge also ordered Dawson to serve two days in jail or complete the sentence on work release. According to court records, he failed to sign up for work release and was ordered to serve the time in custody. The records were unclear as to whether he completed the jail time.
His probation expired in January 2004.
On Feb. 16, Dawson was arrested and charged with misdemeanor drunken driving and an enhancement for a high blood-alcohol level.
The charges don't specify his blood-alcohol level. The legal limit for driving is 0.08 percent.
Dawson pleaded not guilty and is set to return to court Thursday for a potential change of plea, according to court records.
Assistant District Attorney Christine Cook said prosecutors would consider Dawson's prior arrests and the facts of the current case before filing charges.
"We will review every piece of evidence, including any relevant conduct on this occasion or others to determine what the appropriate charges, if any, may be," she said.
Dawson was released from jail after posting bail Sunday night and is scheduled to appear in court May 24 on the boating incident. He was booked on one felony and three misdemeanors.
Some laws governing operation of cars and boats are similar, but not necessarily those involving alcohol, Pacheco said.
The state Department of Motor Vehicles may suspend or revoke a driver's license based on the type and number of vessel-related violations, he said. But no driver's license is required to operate a boat.
There also are no laws against having open containers of alcohol on a boat, and drivers can drink while operating a vessel, Pacheco said. The same 0.08 percent blood-alcohol limit pertains to operating a vessel, however.
A second passenger in Dawson's boat, Eric Brandon, 26, was arrested on suspicion of being under the influence.
Pacheco said sheriff's boating unit investigators expect to submit their reports to prosecutors in about 10 days.
Santa Rosa attorney Jill Ravitch, a former prosecutor who won the county's first second-degree murder case involving a drunken driver, said Dawson could face a wide range of potential charges depending on several factors.
Prosecutors have charged defendants with murder in fatal DUIs when they could prove the defendant knew of the potentially lethal dangers of driving while intoxicated, yet chose to act anyway. One way to prove that, prosecutors say, is to show the defendant was taught about the dangers in drunken drivers' school and disregarded the risks.
"It's going to depend upon what kind of mental state they can impute to him -- if it's regular negligence, criminal negligence, if it's reckless, if it's wanton disregard for the safety of others," Ravitch said of Dawson.