A Killeen man has been charged with criminally negligent homicide after he ran his houseboat over a young swimmer at a lake in Temple, about an hour north of Austin.
The swimmer, a four-year-old girl, died of her injuries shortly after the incident on Friday, June 23. Her father, who attempted to pull her free of the propellers as the boat continued to move, was also caught by the boat and lost both legs. He will likely need additional surgery.
The accident occurred at Temple Lake Park on Belton Lake, a popular local recreational area. According to reports, more than one child was in the water when the boat began to back up. Multiple witnesses claim they screamed at the driver, Jason Bernal, to warn him of the danger but that he didn’t stop and, in fact, increased speed.
The charges don’t include operating under the influence, but witnesses have said the man was drinking prior to the accident. The police have left the door open to other charges being filed, which could be important to the case because penalties can vary widely.
In Texas, criminally negligent homicide carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail without parole. But intoxication manslaughter and vehicular manslaughter both impose more serious penalties, with a minimum two-year prison sentence and up to twenty years possible.
While most people recognize that car crashes are a real risk (they injured hundreds of thousands and killed close to 40,000 last year), boats are often not regarded as dangerous. But with more than half a million registered watercraft on lakes and rivers in Texas, serious accidents are fairly common.
In 2016, the US Coast Guard reported 53 fatalities and 124 serious injuries in recreational boating crashes in our state.
Just as on the highways, alcohol use is a problem on the water. Around 15 percent of all boating crashes are directly attributed to alcohol and it’s the top contributing factor in fatal accidents.
We were saddened by this case and hope that the father recovers and the family is able to receive justice for the loss of their child. After a tragedy like this, the legal system can hold someone accountable but only up to a certain point.
When it comes to important considerations like compensation for medical bills, funeral expenses, lost wages and income, and other tangible and intangible costs, victims often need to turn to the civil court system to recover damages from those responsible.
An effective way to do this is to file a wrongful death suit after partnering with a firm that understands this kind of case, such as Colley & Colley, LLP. We give every client’s case the full attention it deserves.
Get in touch with us today by calling 1-877-411-2001 or by filling out our online contact form to schedule an appointment to discuss your case, free of charge.