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Cuomo signs Brianna's Law, requiring boater safety courses

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo gives a pen he

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo gives a pen he used to sign Brianna's Law on Tuesday in Copiague to Gina Lieneck, of Deer Park, whose daughter Brianna was killed in a boating accident in 2005. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

A new state law will require all boaters to take safety courses to combat the more than 200 boating accidents a year statewide, including a string of fatal crashes in Long Island waters.

On Tuesday in Copiague, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed Brianna’s Law. It is named for 11-year-old Brianna Lieneck of Deer Park, who was killed in a boating accident in 2005.

“A life can change in a matter of a split second,” said Brianna’s mother, Gina Lieneck. She and her husband, Frank, advocated in Albany and on Long Island for the bill and other boating safety bills for years.

“You go from a happy family to a broken family,” she said. “With my family, we lost everything we had and it only took seconds.”

The Lieneck family boat was headed home from Fire Island on an August night when a larger boat slammed into it on the side where Brianna sat. Her parents and sister, Danyelle, who was 13, were seriously injured.

Brianna's Law will require all operators of power boats  more than 10 years old to take an 8-hour course on boater safety.

After Cuomo signed the bill, Gina Lieneck invoked her daughter's memory, exclaiming: “All I can say is, Brianna, we did it!”

The measure is patterned after similar courses required  for drivers  to obtain their licenses to drive automobiles. The course costs $29.50. Previously, state law required safety courses only for boaters born after May 1, 1996.

Statewide, there were 17 fatal boating accidents last year, leaving 19 people dead, according to the state’s 2018 Recreational Boating Report. In 2017, there were 4.95 deaths per 100,000 registered boats and other watercraft, according to the report. That record made New York the 31st least safe state in the nation for boating. The rate dropped to 4.33 per 100,000 boats in 2018, the report stated.

In 2018, alcohol was blamed in 28 crashes, driver inattention was blamed in 86 crashes and speed was the cause in 23 crashes,

The report shows that accidents have steadily decreased with the rise in boaters attending safety classes. In 2000, there were 288 total accidents statewide, compared  with 203 in 2018. During that time, the number of students in safety classes rose from 8,076 in 2000 to 24,168 in 2018.

“These waterways are everything to us,” said Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone. “It’s about keeping people safe on these waterways that are getting more and more crowded and to make sure what happened to the Lieneck family does not happen to others.”

Cuomo noted that even in highly partisan political times, this bill was bipartisan, starting with Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) and finally passing with the sponsorship of Sen. John Brooks (D-Seaford) and Assemb. Kimberly Jean Pierre (D-Wheatley Heights).

“I believe it was Brianna inside you,” Cuomo said, turning to the Lienecks. “I believe it was Brianna’s love saying, ‘Mom, don’t get angry, don’t get sad, we can do something. This was not in vain.’ … Brianna is saving lives. And she’s doing it through her mother and through her father and in many ways that’s a beautiful thing.”

At the end of the emotional news conference, Gina Lieneck brought two other mothers to the podium who are members of the “club nobody wants to be in” -- Lisa Gaines lost her 7-year-old daughter Victoria in a boating accident on July 4, 2012, and Joy Anbrofio lost her 11-year-old daughter, Harlie Treanor, in the same accident. They held each other.

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