Boating under the influence a growing problem in Maryland

In 2012, Whitney Sibol's will was to complete a challenging goal, compete in the Iron Girl Triathlon.

In her training video Sibol said she sent out to prove to young women that, “being strong is healthy and beautiful.”

But to be strong, Sibol had to train strong by running, pedaling and swimming.

The triathlon was scheduled for August and in June of that year in the Bird River behind her grandparents’ house in Baltimore County, Sibol would take the next step of her training, laps in open water with a spotter boat and the distance marked off with buoys.

"I would say I was about 50 yards out maybe and it was a little bit windy that day so it was starting to get a little rocky. I remember thinking I was almost there, just keep going…and that is all I remember," Sibol recalled.

Five days later, Whitney Sibol woke up in Shock Trauma with fractured vertebrae up near her neck, crushed ribs, pelvis and arm; parts of which she couldn't feel because one of her nerves was sliced.

"The impact was taken by my ribs and my pelvis, I have hardware in both and then the propeller cut across my back and my arm."

Sibol was struck by a boat hull and the engine's propeller. Run over by a boater police would later determine was operating his vessel while impaired by alcohol.

RELATED: Drunk boating citations double in Baltimore County

In court, Thomas Ferciot would fight three charges but ultimately was found guilty of an OUI, operating a vessel under the influence.

The case jacket contains part of the evidence the state used including photos of a near empty cooler on the boat that day and a bag full of empty beer cans.

Ferciot was convicted last July, more than a year after Sibol was hit and seven months after she was back at full strength; back from an incident she knows was not on purpose but stops short at calling an accident.

"You think why me? I think I asked that a lot, but I was angry that he made those choices and it wasn't an accident," Sibol said.

Unfortunately, the chances of hearing another story like Sibol’s may not be all that slim.

Department of Natural Resources Officer Lindsey Markert patrols some of Maryland's waterways and is seeing more boaters getting careless with operating their vessel while drinking.

It is easier to spot than you might think she says.

"It's similar to a car,” Markert said. “Even though there aren't lanes here, there are clues. For example if somebody is operating in a manner, you don't have to operate in a straight line but if there is a channel and you are constantly in and out of it, in and out of it...that is going to be a clue to me that something is wrong."

And according to DNR’s own numbers, there is in fact something wrong.

The In Focus team obtained the amount of boaters citied for operating a vessel under the influence which includes being impaired by alcohol or other drugs in the last five years for all of our counties with major bodies of water.

Baltimore County by far leads the pack going from just nine citations or arrests in 2009 to 84 last year.

"Every night you're going find it out here. Somebody is not taking the warning seriously,” the officer said. "You hear it all the time, drinking and boating just goes together and being out here as long as I've been, it goes together and it creates a problem."

A problem on a stark rise in parts of our area, but one that is more than just numbers on a spreadsheet for Whitney Sibol

"It's with me every day. It changed my life and I think it is harder. Now I am not just Whitney, I am Whitney that got run over by a boat.  It's different."

A different life with now a different challenge; Sibol is well back on her feet and competing again and still carrying the same message of doing whatever it takes to show young women that being strong is healthy and beautiful.

 


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