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Outdoor Corner: Water can be a Death Trap

Lyle Johnson

I was sitting on my pier Sunday afternoon, experiencing something sort of weird. You would have thought it was April or May with the amount of boat traffic. We’ve had a lot of rain north of us, causing some high current and plenty of debris, including big logs, posing a danger to boaters.

This scenario always gets me thinking about safety and accidents. In 2009 (a really bad year) there were 152 boating accidents investigated by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Twenty-five of those incidents involved fatalities that resulted in 32 deaths.

Alcohol was the No. 1 cause of the fatal incidents at 24 percent. Operator inattention was the No. 1 cause of overall incidents, while the most common type of incident was hitting a fixed object.

Braxton Templet killed his first buck, a 6 point, 165-pounder Jan. 17 in Wisner at 160 yards with a 6.5 Creedmore.

Seventeen of the fatalities were proven to be by drowning, and 15 of those weren’t wearing personal flotation devices. Of the operators involved in the incidents where the formal boating education level was determined, approximately 80 percent had no formal boating education.

But in the maze of statistics are people that are not here any longer and the families that have to deal with that tragic loss. Mothers that have lost children, brothers that have lost sisters and children that have lost parents.

The hurt brought about by those losses is not measurable and doesn’t have a place in the statistics. I can think back to two incidents in the past that involved friends of mine that resulted in seven deaths. I can still see their faces.

The statistics for fatal boating accidents have been on the decrease for the most part since 2009. We finished 2020 with three fatalities and already have three for 2021 in January alone -- not a good start.

Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries investigates all boating incidents, including fatalities. The first one in 2020 occurred on Sept. 18 Claiborne Parish. Agents were notified about 6:30 p.m. of a boating incident that resulted in the death of Ronald Sexton, 68, of Ruston, on Lake Claiborne.

According to the operator of a ski boat, he said he was on Lake Claiborne traveling north a little after 6 p.m. when a 16-foot bass boat being operated by Sexton hit the back side of his vessel.  Sexton was ejected from his vessel.

The operator of the ski boat and the operator and passengers of a nearby pontoon boat were able to get Sexton out of the water and into the pontoon boat.  They called for an ambulance and took him to shore. 

Sexton was then taken by ambulance to a helicopter for transport to the LSU Health Shreveport hospital.  Sexton had suffered serious trauma from the boating collision and was pronounced dead while in transport.

The next one took place in Jefferson Parish. Agents were notified about 12:30 p.m. on Nov. 21 about a missing boater in Lake Pontchartrain near Metairie.  The body of Ronald Taylor Jr., 45, of Kenner, was recovered from Lake Pontchartrain shortly after the incident.

Brodie Worsham killed his first deer Jan. 22 in the afternoon. It was a 6-point buck that weighed 120 pounds. He shot it with his 7mm-08 in Liberty, Miss.

According to the operator of the 21-foot boat, he and Taylor Jr. were recreationally trawling for shrimp when their trawl got snagged on the bottom of the lake.  While trying to get the trawl loose, the back of the vessel began taking on water.

The operator was able to put on a personal flotation device (PFD) before the boat sunk.  Taylor Jr. wasn’t able to get his PFD on before entering the water and he never resurfaced.  The operator was able to swim to shore and call for help.

Incident number three took place in Terrebonne Parish on Dec. 4. The body of Charles J. Leblanc, 78, of Houma, was recovered from the Houma Navigational Canal near Houma about 12:30 p.m. on Dec. 4.

According to a local tug boat crew, they noticed an unmanned 15-foot vessel doing circles in the water and then noticed a man floating in the water.  The tug boat crew called for help and retrieved the body, which was later identified as Leblanc.

It is unknown at this time how Leblanc entered the water.  His body was recovered with a manual inflatable personal flotation device that was not inflated.

The first incident in 2021 was a double boating fatality that happened in Caldwell Parish. The deceased bodies of two 15-year-old boys were recovered from Lafourche Lake about midnight on Jan. 16.

According to the boat’s operator, Travis H. McFarlain, 55, of Pine Prairie, he was operating an 18-foot aluminum vessel and struck a dock ejecting all three 15-year-old boy passengers and McFarlain.  Two of the 15-year-old boys were killed after being ejected and the third boy was transported to a hospital in stable condition.

Agents conducted a breathalyzer on McFarlain and determined that he was intoxicated.  Agents arrested McFarlain and booked him into the Caldwell Parish Correctional Center for operating a vessel while intoxicated and two counts of vehicular homicide.

The second fatal incident in 2021 happened in St. Landry Parish on Jan. 18. The body of Thomas Godeaux, 50, of Port Barre, was recovered from the Old Courtableau waterway about 3:40 p.m. on Jan. 18.

LDWF agents received a call about 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 18 about a kayak that capsized in Old Courtableau.  Agents arrived on scene and learned from eye witnesses that Godeaux was in a kayak when it capsized. 

Godeaux attempted to swim to the bank but went under the surface of the water and did not resurface. It is unknown at this time what caused the kayak to capsize. Godeaux was not wearing a personal flotation device when he entered the water.

None of those six people ever gave it a thought about not returning to their families or their life ending when they left out to have some fun on the water. Please be careful out there. So until next time, remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard. Have fun in the outdoors, be safe and may God truly bless you!