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Officers to Blame for Drunk Boating Death

By Molly Zilli, Esq. on March 19, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If someone gets drunk while cruising around in their boat, runs from the authorities, and kills an innocent boater nearby, you'd expect that genius to get serious jail time. But you might not think of punishing the officers who chased him as well.

In a wrongful death case out of Mississippi, two officers have been found reckless for their part in the accident, and the state supreme court just approved it. Now, nine years after the tragedy, the family of the deceased boater may actually receive some compensation from that case.

Officers Acted With "Reckless Disregard"

In August 2009, Donald Bernius slammed his boat into that of brothers Christopher and Shane Webb, killing the former and permanently injuring the latter. Two hours later, Bernius' blood alcohol level was still more than three times the legal limit.

Just before the accident, two officers stopped Bernius for speeding. But rather than prohibiting him from operating his boat, they instructed him to follow them from the curve in the river to the open water so they could examine him and his boat. Instead, Bernius sped off in the opposite direction and eventually crashed into the brothers' boat.

In 2014, a judge found that the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks officers, Michael Thrash and Barry Delcambre, acted with reckless disregard when they allowed the drunk man to continue driving his boat against department policy. And although an appeals court reversed the decision, the Mississippi Supreme Court reinstated the original ruling against the officers. Both men are still employed by MDWFP.

Judge Reinstates Award to Boater's Mother, Brother

With the initial finding of the officers' recklessness, the judge awarded $100,000 to Christopher Webb's mother, and $1.4 million to his brother, Shane. However, due to a cap on damages the state has for civil suits, those amounts were reduced to $466,667 and $33,333 respectively. Now that the state Supreme Court has reinstated the original ruling and award, the family may actually see some of that money - most likely a small consolation at this point, given their tragedy.

If you've sustained injuries in an accident, it's not always clear who should be held responsible. Be sure to check with an attorney before you pursue compensation.

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