Thursday, December 28, 2000

Jurors ask for stricter boating laws

Case of fatal wreck on Ohio raised concerns

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Members of a Campbell County jury that acquitted a Hyde Park man of manslaughter and assault charges in a 1999 Ohio River boating accident are asking Kentucky state lawmakers to pass tougher boating-safety laws.

        In an Oct. 27 letter sent to prosecutors, the trial judge and to Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton, jurors contend there is a “woeful lack of legislation and enforcement on this river,” and they want to encourage lawmakers to pass legislation to rectify the “very dangerous situation.”

        “We think boaters need to be licensed and should be made to wear life jackets at all times,” said Barry Adkins of Fort Thomas, one of the 12 jurors and one alternate who signed the letter.

        “People think it's a license to get out there and act crazy,” Mr. Adkins said.

        The letter was drafted by another juror, Rees Storm of Fort Thomas, and given to Kentucky state Sen. Katie Stine, R-Fort Thomas, a neighbor of Mr. Adkins'.

        He said Mrs. Stine delivered the letter to the state's Legislative Research Commission, where he hopes it will spur legislators to act.

        In October, after two days of deliberation, jurors found Brian Brunen, 32, guilty of driving a boat under the influence in the Aug. 16, 1999, collision that killed Pam Barnes Martini, 32; her husband, Scott Martini, 36, of Lawrenceburg, Ind.; and their friend Ken Middendorf, 36, of Cleves. The jury acquitted Mr. Brunen of manslaughter and assault charges because it was unclear who was at fault.

        Prosecutors claimed Mr. Brunen, drunk and speeding, caused the wreck.

        The Martinis and the Middendorfs were thrown from their boat; only Mr. Middendorf's wife, Kim, survived.

        As a result of the jury's ruling, Mr. Brunen was fined a maximum $250 for drunken boating, a misdemeanor in Kentucky.

        “I believe we came to the right conclusion,” said Mr. Adkins. The process “restored my faith in the system. It's not a perfect system, but it's the best thing we have. I'm sure the families wanted what they considered to be justice, but you had to look at Mr. Brunen and really the testimony. ... We just couldn't send him away for something he may not have been totally at fault for.”

        Deliberations were difficult, he said, and jurors were surprised to find the laws on drunken boating lax, limited and unclear.

        Campbell Commonwealth Attorney-elect Jack Porter applauded the jury's action.

        “They're in a unique position ... to understand how the law may have failed,” Mr. Porter said.

        Even though Kentucky regulates much of the Ohio River, lawmakers say it would be difficult to pass sweeping laws that cannot be enforced in other states. A joint effort is needed.

        Ohio state Rep. Rex Damschroder, R-Fremont, said he is sponsoring an Ohio bill to lower the legal limit of intoxication from 0.10 to 0.08, and that the legislation includes a provision for boating.

        The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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