published Saturday, May 26th, 2012

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency ups patrols for Memorial Day weekend

A sailboat approaches a pleasure boat with swimmers on Chickamauga Lake.
A sailboat approaches a pleasure boat with swimmers on Chickamauga Lake.
Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Poll
Will you be going boating this weekend?

Terry Segars would have been out this Memorial Day weekend, having fun with friends on Old Hickory Lake.

Instead, the Hendersonville college freshman will spend it in Vanderbilt University Medical Center, recovering from traumatic injuries he received on the lake while tubing with friends last weekend.

His mother, Gail Stephens, 53, said he was on an inner tube, holding onto a bungee cord and being towed by a jet ski. The cord snapped and rebounded into the 18-year-old's face.

"They said it was like something coming at him at 100 mph," Stephens said. "It broke his jawbone, his nose. He's lost his left eye, and he's got vision in his right eye, but they don't know to what extent. He broke his thumb; he broke his collarbone."

As the summer boating season begins this Memorial Day weekend, state officials are reminding water lovers that a fun day on the lake can turn deadly. There were 162 boating accidents during all of 2011, and 24 boaters died.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is upping its patrols on state waterways this weekend, hoping to make sure boaters have proper safety equipment, understand safe boating and don't overdo the drinking.

"People are off work; the kids are out of school. For a lot of people it's the first opportunity to go boating," said Betsy Woods, boating safety education coordinator for the TWRA.

The agency plans to focus on life jackets this summer with a campaign called "Wear It Tennessee." While boats require a life jacket to at least be available for every person on board, the state is hoping that people will actually wear those life jackets.

Woods said they'll also be focusing on drunken boaters with an upcoming campaign called "Operation Dry Water," a national campaign to combat drunken boating in June.

In addition to extra patrols, law enforcement in Tennessee and across the nation will take to major waterways and set up sobriety checkpoints, similar to those used to combat DUIs, and arrest boaters who have had too much to drink.

Anyone operating a boat is breaking the law if his blood alcohol content is 0.08 or higher. But Woods said the combination of the heat and being out on the water can make drunken boating more dangerous.

"Alcohol affects you three times faster on the water because of those environmental stressors," she said.

Stephens said her son has improved over the past week, and on Wednesday he was finally moved from the Vanderbilt trauma unit to a private room. He still can't speak with his jaw wired shut, but he has been able to open one eye and flash the thumbs up to friends and family who visit.

"He's going to have some challenges, but he's a strong boy and he's got such a strong spirit," she said.

Stephens hopes boaters will take her son's story as a warning to follow all safety precautions and not take unnecessary risks. And maybe they'll be spared the pain that her son is going through.

"He's going through a lot of suffering, and it's terrible," she said, breaking down. "And I know he's going to go through a lot more suffering."

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