One person was killed and three were injured shortly after 9 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019 in a tragic boating accident on Long Island. The driver of the boat, 48-year-old Francesco Distefano, was charged with boating while intoxicated.
The weekend outing went horribly wrong after the 39-foot powerboat struck a bulkhead near the entrance to James Creek in Mattituck, according to Southold police. As a result, 27-year-old Kelley Blanchard was ejected through the front windshield of the boat. She was pronounced dead at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead.
The two other passengers and Distefano were seriously injured and transferred to either Peconic Bay Medical Center or Stony Brook University Hospital for their injuries. Nick Soullas, 41, and Kelley’s sister, Megan Blanchard, 29, remain at the hospital.
Police said that Distefano will be arraigned at a later date.
New York State Senator Jim Gaughran released a statement on the accident, emphasizing the importance of passing proposed legislation that would revoke the driver’s license of anyone convicted of BWI (boating while intoxicated) or BUI (boating under the influence).
“Drunk boaters who recklessly jeopardize the safety of others should not be allowed on waterways or our roadways,” he said in the statement.
Operating a boat with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% g/dL or more is indeed just as dangerous as driving while under the influence, if not more. Almost half of all boating accidents involve drugs or alcohol, according to the BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division, the boating environment includes different motions and vibrations, in addition to engine noise and factors like sun, wind, and spray that could contribute to the drinker’s intoxication. These factors can cause fatigue that results in a quick decline of the boat driver’s judgment and reaction time. Even worse, BUI accidents often occur during recreational boat outings; often boat operators that only use a boat for recreational purposes have less experience sailing on the water than driving on a highway. This combination of lack of confidence, new surroundings, and impaired judgment unfortunately create the perfect circumstances for a catastrophic boating accident.
In every state-not just New York-it is illegal to operate a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. The Coast Guard also enforces a federal law that prohibits boating under the influence, and pertains to all boats-including smaller, non-motorized boats like canoes and rowboats.
If Francesco Distefano had obeyed these laws, Kelley Blanchard would likely still be alive today. Although no amount of money could ever replace Kelley’s presence, her family and loved ones-as well as the other passengers on the boat-deserve compensation for the irreversible consequences of Distefano’s negligence. Legal representation can help them get the full amount of compensation they are entitled to.
The attorneys at Block O’Toole & Murphy have experience handling boat and ferry accident cases. Notable cases include the following:
- $1,500,000 settlement in a case for a couple that sustained serious injuries including multiple cervical fractures after being violently ejected from a boat that crashed in Nassau County.
- $825,000 settlement in a horribly tragic Suffolk County case for a family who lost their 12-year-old son who fell into the water as a result of the boat’s acceleration and was killed by the motor’s propeller.
- $1,125,000 settlement-the largest for any crash victim at the time-for a passenger on the Staten Island Ferry who sustained a fractured leg and pelvis in a 2003 crash.