Corbett Signs Drunken Boating Bill

Mike Dawson
Centre Daily Times

Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law Monday a bill that strengthens penalties against people convicted of driving a watercraft while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, sponsored the bill after the death of Valerie Heidt, who was killed in a boating accident in the Susquehanna River in July 2009. Police said John E. Englert II, of Mill Hall, drove his boat into its path and the two collided. Valerie Heidt was killed, and seven people were injured.

Police said Englert had a 0.22 blood alcohol level at the time, almost three times the legal limit for driving a car. State law prohibited the judge from considering his four previous DUIs.

Andi Heidt Biddle, Valerie’s mother, appealed to state lawmakers after the agreement because killing someone by boat while DUI currently results in a lesser prison sentence than someone who does the same by car.

Benninghoff, Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Lock Haven, and Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont, all worked on the bill.

The new law changes the penalties for homicide by watercraft while under the influence from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony. It’s now in line with the penalty for vehicular homicide while driving under the influence.

The law also states that a consecutive three-year prison term will be imposed for each victim whose death was the result of operating a watercraft while under the influence or alcohol or drugs.

Heidt Biddle, of Hublersburg, said while the law wasn’t in place for her daughter’s case, she’s glad it’s on the books in the event a similar accident happens.

“It will also help people pay attention more to drinking and boating,” she said.

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