Boater guilty in clash with floaters

'Give tubers a wider berth and show more concern for safety'

Boaters need to slow down, alter course and give floaters a wide berth, a justice of the peace ruled Wednesday when she found a Kamloops man guilty of operating without due care and attention.

Joan Hughes ruled in ticket court that Jason Sauka was piloting his boat too close to a group of women who suffered minor injuries in the incident on the South Thompson River last B.C. Day long weekend.

"I find you guilty, sir, of careless operation of a vessel," Hughes said, imposing the ticketed fine of $402.50.

Sauka, who testified that his boat came within seven or eight feet of the women, did not slow down or adjust course, she said.

While a passenger was in the bow serving as a spotter for the pair of tubers they were towing, there was no one observing oncoming traffic in the river, Hughes noted.

"Give tubers a wider berth and show more concern for safety," Hughes told him.

Wendy Salisbury, Tracey Patterson and Lalayneya Meier were tethered together on three floating tubes around 6 p.m. when Patterson saw a boat coming toward them.

"He's not stopping! He's not stopping!," Patterson shouted before the three jumped into the river in an attempt to avoid being hit.

Salisbury suffered a 10-inch gash on her backside. Meier suffered a severe concussion. All three were traumatized.

"There was no doubt in my mind that this was a life-altering event for these women," said Hughes, who noted that their injuries could have been much more severe.

Much of the case hinged upon witness testimony, since those in the boat doubted that they collided with or ran over the women.

Defence lawyer Jeremy Knight argued that the Crown had not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt. He said testimony by Sauka and two of his passengers indicated the boat owner exercised due care and attention in operating the pleasure craft, a 24-foot Malibu Wakesetter. All three on board said no one was drinking.

In order to prove that Sauka broke the law, the Crown would have to show that he deviated from reasonable behaviour, Knight said.

Knight also argued that witness testimony given by the women was inconsistent and therefore not reliable. Had the boat run over them, their injuries would have been more severe. He suggested the three panicked and jumped off their tubes unnecessarily.

"It's not an unreasonable reaction and certainly understandable, but it's not Mr. Sauka's fault."

Federal prosecutor Anthony Varesi told the judge that the case was a clear violation of small vessel regulations on three points: Operating a vessel in a careless manner; not exercising due care and attention; and without care for people in the water.

Varesi said the women's injuries were consistent with a collision and could not have come from their tubes. A reasonable boater would have given a wider berth, he said.

"He was too close," Varesi said. "That's negligent in these circumstances."

As for witness inconsistencies, they were minor, he said.

One of the women said after the court decision that she would not want anyone she knows to go tubing on the river because of the inherent danger posed by boat traffic.

Salisbury said there needs to be some means of separating floaters and boaters.

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