Driver in boat crash sentenced

SANDPOINT — A Sandpoint man who crashed into a powerboat into a moored sailboat on Lake Pend Oreille entered a plea Wednesday to an amended charge of simple negligent operation of a vessel.

Jonathan Richard Beckley entered an Alford plea to the amended charge, meaning he admits no wrongdoing but concedes he could be convicted at trial. The plea, however, is treated no differently than a plea of guilt at sentencing.

Bonner County Magistrate Court Judge Debra Heise sentenced Beckley to a suspended jail term of 10 days, a suspended $300 fine and one year of probation.

Beckley, 37, crashed into the unoccupied sailboat at Ellisport Bay last August. Three people, including a 4-year-old child, were aboard Beckley’s vessel.

Beckley was charged with grossly negligent operation of a vessel, three violations of the Idaho Safe Boating act, and misdemeanor child endangerment.

Deputy Public Defender Susie Jensen successfully moved to dismiss the negligent operation charge after the same charge was dismissed against a Seattle man who crashed into a boat under anchor at Priest Lake in July.

Judge Debra Heise held that the grossly negligent operation of a vessel statute is so unconstitutionally vague that lawful conduct behind the wheel could be deemed prohibited.

The state is appealing Heise’s rulings in the Priest Lake case and the Beckley matter to the Idaho Supreme Court. The appeals are pending.

In exchange for Beckley’s plea, one of the boating act violations was amended to simple negligence and the remaining charges were dismissed, according to court documents.

Beckley argued that the sailboat owner was at fault because the vessel did not have an anchor light illuminated. He further contended that the boat was affixed to a buoy outside of the 200-foot wake zone.

Deputy Prosecutor Katie Murdock countered that the boat was 130 feet from shore and there is no law requiring moored, unoccupied vessels to have an anchor light lit.

Heise said the case was not a matter of comparative negligence; it was a matter of whether Beckley was negligent, court records indicate.

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