State appeals boat crash case dismissal

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SANDPOINT — The state is appealing the dismissal of a misdemeanor criminal charge filed against a Seattle man who plowed his powerboat into another vessel on Priest Lake last summer.

Todd Frederick Stauber was charged with grossly negligent operation of a vessel, but a Bonner County Magistrate Court judge granted a defense motion to dismiss charge on grounds that the law is unconstitutionally vague.

The charge arose from a collision at Luby Bay on July 4. Stauber crashed his boat broadside into an anchored cabin cruiser following a fireworks display. A couple aboard the cabin cruiser were not injured, although several people on Stauber’s vessel were hurt.

The section of Idaho Code under which Stauber was cited makes it illegal to operate a vessel in a manner which endangers persons or property. Stauber’s Sandpoint attorney, Bryce Powell, moved for the charge to be dismissed because the law was so vague that even lawful conduct at the helm could be deemed criminal.

The statute does not expressly state what conduct is considered illegal.

Powell lashed his argument to a 1958 Idaho Supreme Court case against a motorist who was charged with negligent driving. The high court threw out the charge because the statute was unconstitutionally vague.

The language under the former negligent driving statute is strikingly similar to the current negligent operation of a vessel statute.

Judge Debra Heise granted Stauber’s motion in January, ruling that the negligent operation of a vessel statute was unconstitutionally vague.

Although the state later amended the negligent driving statute in light of the supreme court case, state lawmakers inexplicably adopted the original law’s faulty language when they drafted the negligent operation of a vessel law in the 1980s.

In her appeal filed on Wednesday, Bonner County Deputy Prosecutor Katie Murdock is asking a 1st District Court judge to determine whether Heise correctly ruled that the statute is unconstitutionally void for vagueness.

Heise’s ruling led to the dismissal of a negligent operation of a vessel charge against a Sandpoint man who crashed his powerboat into an unoccupied sailboat moored on Lake Pend Oreille last August.

However, Jonathan Richard Beckley, 37, still faces charges of misdemeanor injury to a child and other violations of Idaho’s Safe Boater Act.

A court trial date in Beckley’s case has yet to be determined.

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