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Annapolis mom pushes for stricter Maryland boating law after son's death in crash

Annapolis mom pushes for stricter Maryland boating law after son's death in crash
Annapolis mom pushes for stricter Maryland boating law after son's death in crash 02:45

BALTIMORE -- After losing her son in a boating crash, an Annapolis mother went to the Maryland General Assembly on Thursday.

Nick's Law aims to make stricter boating laws by doing two main things.

If a boater is a convicted offender, they are suspended from operating a boat for a period. This bill would increase that suspension time and create a database of these boaters for agencies to track.

The law is named after Nick Barton, who died in a June 2022 crash on the West River.

"This means a lot to us," said Marie Barton, Nick Barton's mother. "This was a rude awakening for our family."

Shayne Smith, 21, was operating the boat when it crashed into a channel piling. Smith was sentenced to 18 months in jail for being under the influence of drugs and alcohol while operating the boat.

Marie Barton is now pushing for stricter boating laws under the name of her son.

"Things need to change as far as boating and BUI goes in this state," she said. "People go to jail a lot longer than 18 months for killing somebody on the road for a DUI."

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Marie Barton stood beside lawmakers and urged for a favorable vote on "Nick's Law."

If someone is found under the influence of a boat and it results in a death, this new law would prohibit the person from operating a boat for five years. If there was no death, then two years.

"Think twice before you go out and you have a drink," Marie Barton said. "It took my son's life. If I can save one life, then I did my job. And I know Nick would be so proud."

Another feature this bill wants to create is a database that would allow the Department of Natural Resources and Natural Resource Police Officers to track which boaters are prohibited from operating a boat.

It would also require courts to provide information on the offenders to keep the database updated.

Currently, a judge can order someone to not operate a vessel if they are convicted of boating while intoxicated, but there is currently no way to enforce that order.  

"The problem is that order wasn't given to the Department of Natural Resources to enforce so it's not as good as the paper it's written on," Maryland Senator Dawn Gile said.

The DNR said it supports this bill and are working with legislators to establish penalties for operating while suspended.

In a statement to WJZ, the head of the Natural Resources Police Special Services Bureau said "Nick's Law has the potential to take dangerous vessel operators off the water for longer periods of time. The database proposed in this bill allows Natural Resources Police Officers on patrol to have valuable information at their fingertips to assist them in enforcing suspensions handed down by the courts."

If this law is passed, the database would be established by October 1, 2025.

Marie Barton says Nick's Law is just the first of many steps she plans to take to strengthen boater safety in Maryland. 

"If you can just look at this smile and look at what this bill is named after, this is my mission," Marie Barton said. "This is what they call momma bear with her bear claws out. I won't stop fighting for stricter laws for boating."

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