Archived Story

BUI, DUI should be treated equally

Published 12:34pm Friday, December 7, 2012

Those who have been following the updates in the Brian Little boating under the influence case may have learned by now that Little was released after serving a 60-day sentence.

Little was sentenced to one-year after he pled guilt to homicide by vessel in connection to the boating death of 26-year-old Ashley Williams.

Little had been drinking and operating a pontoon boat when the incident occurred. He fled the scene and was found by Alabama Marine Police two weeks later.

As this story developed, I learned a fact about laws in Alabama – a fatal accident caused by a DUI and one brought about by a BUI are not one and the same.

That is, if you are drunk and kill someone driving in a car, you could face up to life in prison.

However, those who cause the death of another person while driving a boat are looking at a minimum sentence of one year and a maximum of no more than five years.

This doesn’t seem to be quite fair to me. It isn’t fair to the victim’s family, and it isn’t fair to those who have been sentenced to longer prison terms because they were on the roads and not the water.

Why should it matter whether it is a car or a boat? To my knowledge, there is no difference in sentencing between killing someone with a knife or with a gun. The end result is the same, and homicide is homicide … right?

I don’t think we should lighten the sentencing for DUI-related homicides. However, is it that radical to wish that BUI crimes carried the same consequences?

That is an issue that has been taken up by some Alabama politicians. Leading the effort are Sen. Brian Taylor (R-Prattville) and Rep. Barry Mask (R-Wetumpka). Taylor and Mask, along with Randall Houston, district attorney for the 19th Judicial Circuit, have renewed an effort than began about 2 years ago. The proposed bill aims to eliminate the difference in penalties between a BUI and DUI.

“It just needs to be consistent with a DUI,” Houston said in an earlier interview. “We need to get the message out that it’s just as dangerous to operate a boat intoxicated as it is a car.”

Regardless of whether or not the law gets changed, this is the message that people need to hear.

On a busy day, some parts of Lake Martin can be just as precarious as a frequently used roadway. Though some boats, like pontoons, might not reach highway speeds, that doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous.

I urge anyone to contact their local politicians and let them know this is a piece of legislation worth supporting.

We don’t need the law to change our behavior, however. Lake Martin is a beautiful treasure – let’s not tarnish its reputation with another tragedy.

Nelson is news editor for The Outlook.