Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the Summer season, ended in devastating tragedy for an Oak Ridge, NC family on Saturday, when a boating accident on High Rock Lake in Davidson County, NC resulted in the deaths of Melissa Chambers Britt, 32, and her three-year-old son, William Jaiden Britt. According to reports, Melissa was also pregnant at the time of her death. Her husband, William Clayborn Britt, Jr., survived the accident.
Authorities with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commision report that the accident occured when a speed boat, driven by Michael Greene, 52, of McLeansville, NC, collided with a pontoon boat carrying the Britt family, as well as Melissa's brother, Michael Chambers. Chambers was air-lifted to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center with serious head injuries, but is listed in fair condition and is expected to recover.
According to reports, only the three-year-old was wearing a life jacket. There is no indication at this time that alcohol use was a factor in the accident and no charges have been filed against Greene, but speed may have played a role and an investigation is ongoing. The family dog, also on the boat, is missing.
Boating is a popular recreational activity in North Carolina. Three of the five attorneys in my firm are boat owners. There were nearly 350,000 boats registered in the State in 2011. That same year, according to statistics compiled by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, there were 142 reported boating accidents, 25 of which resulted in 28 fatalities. While these statistics are sobering, the same statistics demonstrate an overall trend toward safer boating habits. In 1973, with just under 105,000 registered boats in the State, there were 54 fatal accidents. The Summer months, understandably, have been particularly dangerous. In 2011, 81% of all boating accidents occurred between May and September. Likewise 68% of fatal boating accidents occured during the same timeframe.
It goes without saying that the Summer months, particularly holiday weekends like Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day, can be particularly dangerous. Families take advantage of the warmer weather and spend more time outdoors and on the water. Children are out of school and families take their vacations. The lakes, rivers and inlets are simply more crowded. It is important, therefore, that boat owners operate their boats safely and with the same standard of care with which they would drive a car. This means that taking boater safety courses and the regular use of personal floatation devices (PFDs), by both adults and children, are absolutely vital elements of boating safety. State statistics demonstrate that a lack of formal boating education plays a significant role in contributing to boating accidents. Likewise, the non-use of PFDs plays a significant role in contributing to boating accident fatalities.