Here’s the BADD news for state Sen. Greg Barkus, according to the founder and president of Boaters Against Drunk Driving.
“He’s in a world of crap,” said Jim Carlin, speaking from Michigan, where the group is based.
“This guy was probably blitzed” when the accident happened, Carlin said, referring to the news that Barkus’ BAC (blood alcohol concentration) was .16 two hours after the crash — or twice the legal level, according to authorities. “If he had a level of .16 a couple of hours after the accident, you can figure he was probably a .20 or .21 earlier on,” Carlin said. With that much alcohol in your system, “your reflexes are going to be so screwed up,” he added. “The man’s lucky to be alive.”
Prosecutors on Wednesday charged Barkus with felony criminal endangerment for knowingly engaging in conduct that risked “death or serious bodily injury to others.” He was also charged with two counts of felony negligent vehicular assault for operating a motorboat under the influence of alcohol, resulting in serious injuries to U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg (who suffered a broken ankle), and Dustin Frost, Rehberg’s state director (who suffered a severe brain injury and was in a coma for days). Barkus’ lawyer has denied the charges and says Barkus was not impaired.
But according to authorities, Barkus was drinking scotch and wine before the Aug. 27 crash. And to get to a .16 BAC level, you’d likely have to drink pretty hard.
For example, online calculators — with formulas provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) — show that a 190-pound male would have to down as many as nine drinks (meaning nine 12-ounce beers, glasses of wine, or shots of spirits) in a two-hour period to reach a .16 BAC. Over a four-hour period, it could take 10 drinks to get to that BAC level. (Major caveat: These estimates are only given as examples of how much a man might have to drink to hit .16. It’s not clear how many hours Barkus was drinking, or how much he weighs. In addition, the calculators don’t take into account the age and health of the drinker, the speed at which they’re drinking, and whether they’re also eating — all things that impact BAC.)
It is clear, however, that people who register .16 are significantly impaired, no matter how many or how few drinks it took them to get there. According to the NHTSA website, people with a .15 BAC level can suffer:
— “Diminished muscle control”
— “Vomiting (unless the level is reached slowly or the person has developed a tolerance for alcohol)”
— “Major loss of balance”
— “Substantial impairment in vehicle control, attention to driving tasks, and necessary visual and auditory information processing”
The U.S. Coast Guard puts it in equally scary terms. Because of factors such as the droning (and somewhat hypnotic) noise and motion of motorboats, the hypothermia and drowning potential — and the fact that a boat, unlike a car, does not have brakes — boating while drunk can be uniquely dangerous, the Coast Guard says. “A boat operator with a blood alcohol concentration above .10 percent is estimated to be more than 10 times as likely to die in a boating accident than an operator with zero blood alcohol concentration. Passengers are also at greatly increased risk for injury and death,” the USCG states.
Carlin, for his part, is a retired police officer who based his observations about the Barkus crash on his law enforcement experience and his decades of work as the president of the boating world’s equivalent of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD). He notes that he doesn’t have inside information about the case — his opinions are based on the same news stories that the rest of us have been reading since the Aug. 27 crash in which Barkus, driving a motorboat at night on Flathead Lake, smashed onto a rocky shore, seriously injuring Rehberg and Frost. Barkus was also badly hurt, suffering a broken pelvis and ribs. In addition, Rehberg staffer Kristin Smith and Barkus’ wife Kathy were in the boat and suffered injuries.
Carlin says he founded BADD in 1989 to lobby for BUI (boating under the influence) laws that parallel DUI laws for drivers on the road. Today, a blood-alcohol level of .08 is the legal limit for boaters in the majority of states, including Montana. “When I founded BADD, boaters could have a beer in one hand and be waving at the Coast Guard with the other hand, and that was acceptable,” said Carlin. “Those days are over.”
And for anyone who has lingering doubts about whether .16 BAC means you’re toasted, consider one of BADD’s experiments a while back.
The organization asked a 44-year-old man to drink and boat, in cooperation with the Maryland Natural Resources Police. The volunteer, an experienced boater, drank three shots of vodka over several hours of driving a motorboat. Then he tried to pull into a slip — and slammed into the dock. Confused, he tried to back up and try again, but instead of putting the boat in reverse, he revved the engine forward and ran the bow up onto the dock. Afterward, the man downed one more shot of vodka and took a breathalyzer test. His BAC was .11 — lower than the one reported for Barkus. (Note: Even four hours after the crash, Barkus still was legally drunk, with a blood-alcohol level of .12, according to law enforcement officials.)
The good news? Carlin had praise for Flathead County Attorney Ed Corrigan and for the officers who conducted the investigation. “Not every cop will go out on a limb and pursue a person of this somewhat higher esteem,” he said. “Good for them, and good for the prosecutor.”