Film Spotlights Drunk Boat Drivers

People who would never drive drunk somehow forget that lesson when it comes to partying on the water.

"We have cases where people have run into each other on jet skis while intoxicated," says Judge Lex Anderson. "People have run into islands, and people have been decapitated by propellers of boats."

Across the country, there are more than 5,000 boating accidents every year and alcohol has a role in many of them. While California and Florida top the list, The Early Show correspondent Hattie Kauffman reports, desert-bound Arizona has some of the highest accidents rates in the country. Many of those accused of OUI, operating a boat under the influence, end up in court.

"The lakes now are just so jam packed, compared to what they were even a few years ago," one judge says. "Just the volume of people coming in with OUI tickets has just skyrocketed."

One of them was Angel Lindbergh, 19, convicted of manslaughter in the death of her best friend.

"Because I was being irresponsible," she says, "My best friend is now gone."

Lindbergh had had a few beers while jet skiing on Lake Pleasant, near Phoenix. She collided with her best friend, killing her.

"It gets harder and harder," she says. "It hits me more and more every day. I see her in the hospital, in my mind, in my dreams. I see her body in the coffin."

It was Lindbergh's tragic experience that made Judge Lex Anderson realize that more needs to be done to get out the message about the dangers of drunk boat operators. He began researching the problem, visited emergency rooms, jails, and the morgue.

"Boats can be just as deadly as an automobile," he notes.

And so he is taking the unusual step of producing a docu-drama called, "Operating Under The Influence." A scene shows a little girl pulled from water and put into body bag. The girl is not a victim, but an actress.

In this re-enactment, defense attorney Leslie Lemense plays her mom and in the docu-drama, she addresses the court with the following words: "She was 10 years old when she died. I know what they said that this was a tragic accident. This is not an accident. He made this decision. He operated that boat, knowing full well he was drunk."

To Kauffman, she says, "Over the course of nine years of practicing criminal law, I have seen and heard victims in that very position, making those statements to the court, and unfortunately for them, it was real life."

Judge Anderson wanted those who witness the tragedy of drunk-boaters - attorneys, judges, and even a medical examiner - to play roles in his video.

Medical Examiner Rebecca Shu says, "I've seen people have amputation of limbs and subsequently bled to death before they had time to drown, so it's truly, truly devastating."

Who are the people who are boating and drinking?

"Everybody from all walks of life," says Lemense. "I mean, you do have the people that you would stereotypically think, the younger generation, teenagers or early twenty-somethings. But you also have people who are schoolteachers, stay-at-home moms, engineers, lawyers, doctors."

While there's no speed limit on a lake, there is a blood alcohol limit: .08, the same as being legally drunk on the road.

"People don't understand that," says Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. "Whether you're on a boat or driving your vehicle, it's the same law. You're going to jail."

Arizona has stepped up the number of patrol boats. Last year alone, 254 accidents were reported. And there were 438 arrests for operating under the influence.

With his video, Judge Anderson says the message he wants to send is that it can happen to you.

"It can happen to anybody," he explains. "Bad things happen to good people when they make a bad choice and get behind the wheel of a boat intoxicated."

And that bad choice, as his video shows, can result in more than 20 years behind bars.

"I was told the doctors couldn't help her," says Lindbergh of her friend. "They tried everything. If I could give my life to bring her back, I would."

Judge Anderson says, "One moment of being intoxicated behind the wheel of a boat, and something happens, where you didn't see somebody in the water, and you kill them. Your family is going to be destroyed. The family of the victim is going to be destroyed. The ripple effect is just as dramatic on the water as it is on the highways.

The judge's video will be shown to every drunk-boater convicted in Arizona.

Anderson is hoping his video will be a wake up call for those cited for operating under to influence.