“No Refusal” for boaters too

LAKE CONROE- The first night of the “No Refusal” holiday weekend was relatively uneventful, but it might have been a mere dress rehearsal for Saturday night, when all of the organized events and private parties will be held where people traditionally drink too much and then get behind the wheel. Most people think of drunks endangering lives by driving on a roadway, but they do the same on water by driving boats after overindulging.

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Texas State Game Warden V Ernie Garcia, an 11 year veteran of the local battle against boating while intoxicated, was one of about 12 game wardens patrolling in six boats on Lake Conroe on Friday. The Marine Division of the Pct. 1 Constable’s Office was also on the lake. The agencies were part of the countywide effort spearheaded by Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office.

Garcia said the laws regarding drinking and boating and those related to drinking and driving have similarities but are not all the same. For example, there is no open container law for boaters.

Additionally, game wardens are not required to have probable cause to stop a boat, but can do so for “water safety inspection,” and have that prerogative regarding any boat that is on the water and occupied, he said.

In some cases, law enforcement officers assigned to bodies of water witness reckless driving of boats and stop them, but they may also stop a boat that is extremely full or has children onboard to make sure there are life jackets for everyone. Those checks often lead to the discovery of drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

“We’re looking for drivers who are impaired or intoxicated,” Garcia said. “That’s putting the safety of everyone in that boat at risk.”

He said upon stopping a boat, officers are trained to examine the person’s actions, eyes and attitude and to notice slurred speech or the smell of alcohol. Not everyone reacts the same way to intoxication, he said.

They can do a “float sobriety test,” but once a determination of possible or probable impairment is made, the driver is taken to the shore for the standardized field sobriety test.

Those who fail the SFST and refuse to cooperate with a breathalyzer test this weekend will be forced to submit to a court ordered blood draw.

When asked if blood tests ever came back negative, Garcia said it may have happened to someone somewhere, but it has not happened to him. He pointed out that many other checks were in place before things reached the point of an involuntary blood draw.

As for violating people’s rights by drawing blood against their wills, Garcia said he has no problem with the process.

“We’re out here to promote water safety, in the past there have been a lot of accidents on this lake,” Garcia said.

Details and photos will be posted later regarding the first night of the July 4 “No Refusal” weekend around the county, in addition to arrest highlights from the effort, complete with names and addresses of violators who spent the night in the Montgomery County Jail.

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