This is the true story of a young professional real estate agent named
Jody. Jody had everything going for him. He had a great job with a good
salary, a fabulous lakefront condominium in Marion county, Florida, and
a new boat. What more could he ask for? It appeared to him that he had
everything a man could want.
Well, it was Friday, the beginning of Memorial Day weekend, 1998. It was a cool morning around eight a.m. Jody was having a fresh cup of coffee on the upper deck of his condo, observing what a beautiful day it was going to be. He thought of a day of boating, swimming, and a barbecue cookout with some of his closest friends and family.
He called Dave first. Dave was looking for a day of sun, so he accepted Jody's invite and said he would bring Leanne and they would stop at a store for beer, soda and snacks. Jody then called Darlene at work to invite her. She said she would be over around four o'clock, after she got off work. "Great," Jody thought, and proceeded to call his sister Vivian to see if she and her husband Alan wanted to join the party. They had some prior commitments for the morning, but would arrive later that afternoon.
At that point, Jody began to prepare for the day, fueling up the boat and getting all the necessities; soda, beer, suntan oil, food, a radio, and other essentials. Shortly after he got back home, Dave and Leanne arrived. They loaded their spoils onto the boat and the three of them took off in the boat for a cruise around the lake. They found a good spot to anchor; they swam, tanned, drank a few beers, and enjoyed each other's company for the morning. While anchored, Leanne borrowed Jody's cell phone and called her boyfriend Chris to see if he wanted to join the party. Chris said he would be right over as soon as he stopped to pick up his shorts and something to drink. So they pulled anchor and headed back to the beach at the condo. Shortly after they arrived back, Chris showed up, along with Vivian and Alan. Since it was around two o'clock, and Darlene would be over soon, they decided to stay at the beach. They laid out in the sun, ate some snacks, and drank some beer and soda. Jody broke out the water tube so they could all take turns tubing and riding on the boat. They were all having a great wonderful time.
Around four p.m., Vivian and Alan had to leave. Everyone was getting sort of hungry so Jody fired up the grill and barbecued some chicken. Around that time Darlene showed up to join the party. They all stayed around the condo to eat, drink, and enjoy a beautiful beginning to the holiday weekend.
The sun was starting to set over the lake and they thought it would be a great idea to take the boat out and watch the colorful sunset, and then go to "Gator Joe's," a bar on the other side of the lake. Jody figured it was alright, and actually better, because no one had to drive back to the condo by car, all they had to do was pilot the boat across the lake. No problem! What could be better? They weren't in a car; they were in a boat. They took their time going across the lake so they could talk and enjoy a drink while the sun was setting.
When they arrived at Gator Joe's, Jody secured the boat and they went inside, ordered drinks, shot some pool, and shared fellowship with other friends. Around ten p.m. they all boarded the boat for the quick run back across the lake. They sang, laughed, and genuinely enjoyed the evening as they headed back across the lake.
It was very dark that night, but that shouldn't matter as Jody's dock and shoreline were well-lit. Dave noticed that they went beyond Jody's place and told him. Jody slowed down and proceeded to make a wide u-turn to head back to the condo. The next thing he remembered was waking up in the hospital with tubes and wires all over him.
He didn't remember the helicopter "Life Flight" to the trauma center or the surgery he received. He'd had two operations already and would need a few more within the next year. He was a complete mess, physically and mentally, and he couldn't remember anything except little bits of that day.
A couple of days later, Leanne visited Jody and found him with his mouth wired shut and a trachea tube to breathe through. He could barely speak to her and whispered to her, "What happened?" She told him about Dave having a broken back and major leg damage, which would require many more operations and rehabilitation. Leanne also told him about Darlene requiring major surgery on her head to release the pressure built up on her brain.
You see, they had run right into someone's unlighted dock protruding way out into the lake as they were making a u-turn. No one aboard ever saw that unlighted dock!
Jody asked about Chris. Leanne paused. She didn't know what to say and he could tell by the look on her face that Chris had died in the accident.
Jody was devastated. He was so distraught he actually wished he had been the one to die. The grief was unbearable. How? Why did this happen? His friend Chris was dead, and Dave and Darlene critically injured, and almost fatally. His own injuries seemed so small. Five lives changed in a blink of an eye on that Memorial Day weekend.
Three weeks later Jody was released from the hospital. He was charged with one count B.U.I. (Boating Under the Influence) Manslaughter, and two counts B.U.I. with bodily injury. These charges carried anywhere from eighteen to thirty one years in the Florida State Prison System. The case in Ocala, Florida was a very lengthy and publicized one, as it was one of the first in Marion County. It was settled on January 9, 2003 when Jody agreed to a plea bargain and was sentenced to five years in prison and also being on a stringent probation for ten years after his release from prison.
Who would have thought going boating and having a few beers would have ended a beautiful weekend like this? They were in a boat, not a car. There was almost no one else on the lake that night. This is why all of them could party and enjoy themselves; no one needed to drive. There is no requirement to have a license to drive a boat.
The reason I'm writing this story is because I am Jody, and I'm writing this from the Florida State Prison in Lawtey, Florida. I want to inform you and all the people I can about this accident to let you see how quick a life can end and how devastated families and people's lives can instantly become changed from drinking and driving any vehicle, whether it is a boat, a car, or whatever it may be. Alcohol really and truly doesn't mix with driving or piloting any power vehicle. If you think about it with an honest heart, you may just find yourself in agreement. I've boated most of my adult life, and I've noticed whether people are fishing skiing or just going out on the water for a fun filled day with family and friends. The first thing many people put into their boat is a cooler full of beer or perhaps some other alcoholic beverages. It seems a lot of people think the way I once did, before I lost a good friend and my freedom. They know enough not to drink and drive a car, but a boat? Come on, what can that hurt? People who think this way are asking for an accident to happen.
Since this tragic accident occurred I have prayed to God, asking for forgiveness and direction to let people know the unforeseen dangers of drinking alcohol and boating. That is how I was led to start "B.A.D. Boating" (Boaters Against Drunk Boating). This program is designed to help inform people about the hazards and consequences of drinking and boating.
In my life many things have happened, some good, some bad; but I never expected something like this to happen. I will have these emotions follow me the rest of my life, grief, sorrow, regret, and hope. Hope that my telling you about this tragedy will open your eyes and the eyes of others, so the same fate will not befall them or you.