Wiffle ball event honors memory of child killed in boating accident

Erin Borcia smiled and hugged a friend at Jo Ann Eckmann Park in Libertyville as the sharp whack of plastic balls glancing off of bats repeated in the background.

“He would be happy and proud,” 14-year-old Erin said of her younger brother, Tony, whose death on the Chain O’ Lakes two years ago sparked the Y-NoT Project, new boating safety legislation, and a fundraising wiffle ball tournament that drew hundreds of supporters to the park Sunday.

“We knew we wanted to do something to honor him,” she continued. “And we always used to play wiffle ball with him. The whole neighborhood did.”

Ten-year-old Tony Borcia was out for a day of tubing July 28, 2012, with Erin, another sister, Kaleigh, his brother, Joe, and father, Jim. Tony fell off of the tube and, family members said, he was waving his arms frantically when he was struck and killed by a fast-flying 29-foot boat.

The driver of the boat, David Hatyina, now 52, pleaded guilty last year to aggravated driving under the influence in connection with the crash. He is serving a 10-year prison sentence.

“We were having the day of our lives,” said Tony’s father, reflecting for a bit as his teammates went to bat a few feet away. “And then it changed our lives forever.

“This tournament is an event that restores some faith in humanity for us,” the Libertyville resident continued. “It shows people’s love for our son Tony, and for us. It’s really a neat thing.”

Bands played as event-goers perused the many items on a silent auction table, and teams in six divisions competed for bragging rights and a chance to go to the home-run derby. Each team paid $250 to enter the tournament, and those raising the most money in their division were recognized.

The event raised $77,000 last year, $68,000 of which was spent on a new boat for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to use for law enforcement on the Chain, said Margaret Borcia, Tony’s mother.

Everyone in the tournament received T-shirts that read “Borcia” on the back with the No. 7, Tony’s favorite.

Margaret and Jim Borcia said they are committed to raising awareness of and changing attitudes toward intoxicated boating. They have worked with state Sen. Julie Morrison, D-29th, of Deerfield, who is Tony Borcia’s aunt, to see three boating safety bills become law.

The laws take effect Jan. 1, 2015. One will allow for seizure of a watercraft used in the commission of certain offenses, including being driven by an intoxicated driver with multiple operating under the influence convictions. Another will require anyone born after Jan. 1, 1998, to take and pass a boating safety course and hold a valid boating safety certificate before driving any boat with an engine of more than 10 horsepower.

The third requires that boaters towing a skier or someone riding a tube must display an orange flag atop the boat’s most visible point, said Morrison, who manned a bracelet and pin sales booth at the tournament Sunday.

“There are no brakes on boats, and no stop signs,” Morrison said. “The culture has to change so that we’re just as responsible when driving boats as we are in cars.”

Margaret Borcia agreed.

“After Tony’s death, I found out that on the Chain … when it’s busy on weekends, people who live there won’t let their kids on the water,” she said. “It’s thought that on a boat is the last socially acceptable place to drink and drive. Through the education that we’re doing and through the laws that were passed and through more enforcement, we can change that.”

Jim Borcia had rented a boat to take his children out that day. Unfamiliar with the Chain, he was directed to Petite Lake as a good and safe place for tubing by the marina operator who rented him the craft, he said.

According to court records, a blood draw showed that Hatyina’s blood-alcohol level was between .09 and .12 at the time of the collision. He also had cocaine in his system.

“He was driving a missile he couldn’t guide,” Jim Borcia said. “That little boy was life to us. So many people loved him. Every day is a struggle, but the event is not going to conquer us. We’re going to be stronger as a society by building awareness.”

THE Y-NOT PROJECT

To learn more about the Y-NoT Project, visit ynotproject.com.

6 Comments

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  • lynn beagle

    No one familiar with the Chain knows not to pull anyone across the mouth of a channel especially on a busy weekend day. The new law would not have helped avoid this accident as I am sure Mr. Borcia was born before 1998.

    2014-08-12 07:03:55 | Reply
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    2014-08-12 02:27:27 | Reply

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