Law enforcement watching waterways over holiday


SMITH LAKE — Alabama waterways have seen 28 fatalities in 2019. Most of those deaths have happened in crashes that law enforcement officials say were avoidable, leading officers to urge common sense and courteous attitudes on the water for Labor Day weekend.

“Smith Lake is becoming more busy every single summer,” said John Williams, with the Marine Patrol Division of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. “We are seeing an increase in traffic by the thousands every year. Smith is not a very wide body of water, so making sure you are doing what you are supposed to be doing, bring in common sense and be aware of your surroundings. Do not get too close to docks, shorelines and other boats may help you have a safer day out on the water and make sure you go home at the end of the day.”

There have been four fatalities on Smith Lake this year with approximately 10 crashes that have been reported. Williams said there is a common factor involved in most crashes on the lake.

“We see every two out of three crashes that alcohol is involved,” he said. “Any time there is alcohol involved, it impairs their judgment. Out on the water, the wind, the waves, the activity, the sun and the heat is going to intensify your blood alcohol content.”

Williams said 2019 has been the most active of his 12-year career. He also added there would be zero tolerance for boating under the influence.

“As far as this year, it has been one of the busier summers that I have had in my 12 years,” he said. “It is the most that I have seen as far as fatalities. These can all be avoided by obeying the rules of the water.

“Abiding by the rules of the waterway and staying to the right hand side, that way you are not going head on with other traffic and boats out there,” he added. “Something we get a major complaint on is common courtesy. It is best to be a defensive driver out on the water as well. Marine patrol’s role is to enforce state laws and maritime laws out on the water. We will be out in force during the Labor Day holiday because we know there will be more traffic on our waterways.”

Tony and Gina Hunt of Brookhaven, Mississippi, were enjoying a day on Smith Lake Friday morning when they were stopped by Marine Patrol officers for a routine safety check.

“I’m glad that you guys are out here,” Gina Hunt said. “It makes the lake safer for me and my children. We come out to enjoy our family and have a good time. We appreciate what the marine police do.”

Williams said most of the Marine Patrol’s interactions with citizens are positive.

“We enjoy meeting the people who spend time at the lake,” he said. “Most people are just like those folks. They want to have a safe, fun day with their families. We are here to help be sure they can all do that and go home at the end of the day.”