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Arrests rise for piloting boats under the influence

Lake County Sheriff's marine patrol deputies Mike Wagner (left) Roger Medrano (right) arrest Jerry Owens Schiller Park who is sitting

Lake County Sheriff's marine patrol deputies Mike Wagner (left) and Roger Medrano (right) arrest Jerry Owens of Schiller Park who is sitting with hand cuffs on for allegedly operating while intoxicated on his boat on Grass Lake. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media

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Operating Under the Influence

2012: 71

2011: 47

2010: 44

2009: 35

2008: 26

Source: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

Marine Unit

Accidents in Lake County

2012: 13

2011: 15

2010: 31

2009: 18

2008: 41

Source: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

Marine Unit

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Updated: October 7, 2012 6:11AM

Boating safety on the Chain O’ Lakes has come under public scrutiny since a 10-year-old boy was killed in late July by a boater alleged to have been drunk and high on cocaine.

The man charged with fatally running over Libertyville youngster Tony Borcia on Petite Lake near Lake Villa was one of 71 people arrested for operating under the influence on the Chain so far this year, according to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.

“By and large, the vast majority of people on the Chain are not drinking to the point of intoxication. It’s a small element we’re targeting,” said Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran. “The Chain is very crowded. People need to be cognizant of that.”

He said each of the Chain’s lakes has a “unique flavor” to them and that boaters should be cautious.

Data released from the Sheriff’s Office and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources shows that the number of OUI arrests has steadily been rising in the last five years and that the number of accidents on the lakes has decreased.

“We have no tolerance for intoxicated boaters. Our main goal is to keep people safe out on the lakes,” said Sgt. Louis Kent, who is in charge of the Lake County Sheriff’s Marine Unit.

Kent said that intoxicated boaters are a “huge problem” on the Chain O’ Lakes. It is not illegal to drink on a boat as long as the boat driver’s blood-alcohol content does not pass the legal .08 limit, Kent said.

The sheriff’s Marine Unit made 26 OUI arrests in 2008 and 71 so far this year. These number are from Lake County, not specific to the Chain O’ Lakes, but predominantly on the Chain.

There were 41 accidents in 2008 compared to 13 so far this year, according to Marine Unit statistics.

Data from IDNR does not reflect such clear trends. Conservation Police officers made 17 OUI arrests in Region 2, which includes the Chain O’ Lakes, along with several other lakes in the northeast section of the state. CPO made 32 OUI arrests in 2008. Arrests jumped up to 42 in 2009 and dropped down to 38 in 2010.

Accidents reported to the IDNR in Lake County have remained in the mid-teens since 2008. There were 16 accidents reported in 2011 and 14 reported in 2008.

Statewide, so far from Oct. 8, 2011, through July 3, 2012, there have been two fatalities and 18 accidents related to alcohol, according to the most recent data available from IDNR.

Drought conditions coupled with the heat afforded more people the opportunity to get on the water more than in any given year, according to IDNR Sgt. Brett Scroggins.

“I don’t see any significant difference in boating on the Chain O’ Lakes in terms of safety. From what I have seen, the number of accidents ... have all stayed relatively constant,” Scroggins said.

Kent suggested that boaters make sure they are familiar with water navigation, know what the weather will be like and inspect the boat before going out on the water.

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