Victim's parents to testify on boat safety

Victoria Gaines, one of the children who died Victoria Gaines, one of the children who died when the Kandi Won capsized in Oyster Bay on July 4, 2012. On the right, the Kandi Won is towed to shore after being raised from the bottom of Oyster Bay on July 11, 2012. Photo Credit: Handout and Howard Schnapp

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The parents of the 7-year-old girl killed in the July Fourth boating accident on Oyster Bay plan to join enforcement officials and safety advocates in testifying Wednesday at a state hearing on toughening boating laws.

Lisa and Paul Gaines, of Huntington, whose daughter, Victoria, died with two other children when a 34-foot boat capsized after a fireworks display, are scheduled to testify before state Sen. Carl L. Marcellino (R-Syosset) and the Standing Committee on Investigations and Government Operations.

"Their mission is to prevent this from happening again," said Gaines family attorney Michael Della of Ronkonkoma. "They don't want their daughter to have died in vain. Nothing is going to bring her back, but pushing for change in her name is what's keeping them going."

Other speakers include state parks Commissioner Rose Harvey; Sgt. John Owen, deputy commanding officer of the Nassau County Police Marine Bureau; Lawrence Postel, district commander for the U.S. Power Squadrons boating safety organization; Chris Squeri, executive director of the New York Marine Trades Association; and Jackie Martin, commodore of the Greater Huntington Council of Yacht & Boating Clubs.

"Unfortunately, you have people out on the water now who might not realize how dangerous their actions can be," Marcellino said.

New York has one of the country's oldest boating education programs, dating to 1959, he said. But only boaters younger than 18 and those operating personal watercraft such as Jet Skis must take a safety course. New Jersey and Connecticut require classes for all boaters.

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The 11 a.m. hearing will be at Oyster Bay Town Hall. Those wishing to submit written testimony can arrange that by calling Marcellino's district office at 518-455-2390.

State Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr. (R-Merrick), chairman of the Senate's Transportation Committee, in the past two weeks has introduced two boating safety bills.

One would require all boaters to take a safety course. The other would make it a felony to drive a boat while drunk with children aboard, institute mandatory suspensions of boating privileges and motor vehicle driver's licenses, and create a new charge of aggravated BWI for driving a boat with a blood-alcohol level of 0.18 percent or higher. The state's legal limit is 0.08. The bill also would link driving, boating and snowmobiling under-the-influence offenses, so violators could be charged as repeat offenders.

Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) is sponsoring the bills in the House.

Tuesday, Suffolk County Legis. Steve Stern (D-Huntington) plans to introduce legislation that would require all boaters in Suffolk to complete a safety course if the state Legislature does not take action.

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Della said the Gaines family hopes lawmakers follow through on their push for tougher boating safety rules.

"We need to get a little more strict on the waterways, and possibly prevent this from happening again," Della said.

With Laura Figueroa

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