Megan Morgan's Gruesome Injuries and Dangers of Boating Under the Influence

Stagecoach State Park, south of Steamboat Springs near Oak Creek, is among many gorgeous slices of land incorporated in the Colorado Parks and Wildlife system.

But late last month, the bucolic setting played host to a gruesome scene of the sort officials hope to avoid over Labor Day weekend, summer's last big hurrah for boating on Colorado's lakes and rivers.

On Sunday, August 21, according to Steamboat Today, 26-year-old Megan Morgan was sitting on the bow of a pontoon boat when she fell into the waters of Stagecoach Reservoir. She reportedly wound up between the pontoons, and when the boat passed over her, she was struck by the engine's propeller.

Her many injuries included serious lacerations to both arms and a dislocation of her left elbow so severe that it seemed just shy of an amputation to the author of an arrest affidavit related to the case.

Why was such a report necessary? Because a breathalyzer test given to Skyler Williams, who was piloting the boat, registered a .14, nearly double the blood-alcohol-content level denoting legal intoxication. As such, he was busted on suspicion of felony vehicular assault as well as boating under the influence.

That last charge, shorthanded as BUI, isn't well known among members of the general public, but it's used regularly in Colorado.

Kris Wahlers, boating safety program manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, notes that "we usually average twelve boating-under-the-influence arrests a year. That includes boating under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but most of them are alcohol — and that doesn't include citations by a lot of our partners," such as sheriff's offices in assorted counties.

CPW data over the past five years shows that intoxicants played a role in approximately 16 percent of boating accidents and 2 percent of boating deaths.

The number of recent boating accidents, BUI arrests and BUI-related fatalities per annum breaks down like so:

Boating accidents: 82
BUI arrests: 8
BUI-related fatalities: 0


Boating accidents: 62
BUI arrests: 15
BUI-related fatalities: 5


Boating accidents: 49
BUI arrests: 10
BUI-related fatalities: 0


Boating accidents: 50
BUI arrests: 10
BUI-related fatalities: 0


Boating accidents: 63
BUI arrests: 5
BUI-related fatalities: 1
Wahlers adds that "there are still a lot of cases out and open for 2016" — Williams's among them.

In an effort to reduce these numbers, CPW participates in Operation Dry Water, an annual national crackdown on boating under the influence.

The latest Operation Dry Water effort took place June 24-26 and included enhanced patrols and/or checkpoints at eighteen state park reservoirs and rivers. And while no BUI arrests took place during that span, Colorado Parks and Wildlife personnel issued 55 citations and gave out 291 warnings to the 2,593 boaters and 1,082 vessels contacted.

Here's an Operation Dry Water video offering more information about the program.

On Labor Day weekend, CPW personnel will be using what Wahlers characterizes as "active enforcement" of possible BUI scenarios — and when a boat is stopped for safety reasons, "we pay special attention to the operator's actions to see if they are using alcohol or drugs. If we suspect they are, we do standard field sobriety testing. And if they don't complete it successfully, it's a jailable offense."

This may come as a surprise to some folks, since "people look at boating as recreation," Wahlers allows. "And they should; it's a lot of fun. But when they're looking at it as recreation, they also associate drinking and drug use as recreation, too. And that's where we have to draw the line — at the point where recreation becomes a public-safety issue."

In some ways, the risks from intoxicated operators on water are even greater than they are on land. In Wahlers's words, "Boats go fast, there are no brakes, no seat belts, and not the kind of clear-cut rules of the road as there are on the highway." And while fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds have to go through a mandatory education program in order to be approved to operate a boat, there are no such requirements for anyone age sixteen and over.

Also of note are what Wahlers refers to as "environmental factors. When you're out there on the water, it's hot and you may get dehydrated. So your response time and judgment may be lower to begin with — and if you add alcohol or drugs on top of that, it makes things even worse."

With that in mind, Wahlers encourages the use of a designated driver — or a "sober skipper," as he puts it — plus an appreciation of the damage boating drunk or stoned can do.

"A lot of times, people look at it selfishly," he says. "They think, I'm not going to get hurt if I drink in a boat. But it's not necessarily the operator that something can happen to. It's everybody else on the water, or it's other people on the boat."

The story of Megan Morgan offers a particularly unfortunate example. Look below to see a Colorado Parks and Wildlife video about boating safety.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts