Death by Powerboat

Boaters who strike and kill kayakers go nearly unpunished

James Adamopolous and his 10-year-old son Gus were aboard this sit-in kayak when a boat driven by Steven Morse struck it.

James Adamopolous and his 10-year-old son Gus were aboard this sit-in kayak when a boat driven by Steven Morse struck it. Photo: Courtesy of The Republican and

Death by Powerboat
Boaters who strike and kill kayakers go nearly unpunished
By Jeff Herman

Imagine a driver plowing into a child on a bicycle. Now imagine his lawyer arguing that because state law does not specifically list bicycles as street-legal transportation, the driver is not at fault. Can you imagine? The notion is so preposterous that it is almost comical.

Kayakers aren’t laughing. In 2011, while piloting his powerboat on Lake George, New York, Donald Peltier, 73, struck and killed kayaker Peter Snyder, 63. The facts are undisputed. The evidence is clear. Snyder drowned, a consequence of severe head and spinal injuries.

RELATED: Conviction Of Kid Kayak Angler Killer Nears Appeal

Peltier was charged with reckless operation. The grand jury reduced the charge to failure to yield the right of way, perhaps out of sympathy for Peltier’s efforts to save Snyder after the collision. In reducing the charge, however, the grand jury made a legal misstep that would allow Peltier to walk free.

New York State navigation law doesn’t recognize kayaks as “vessels.” In legal terms, Peltier wasn’t required to yield the right of way to a kayaker. Queensbury Town Justice Robert McNally dismissed the charge, rejecting prosecutor James Murphy III’s pleas to broadly interpret the meaning rather than the narrow wording of the navigation law. If Snyder had been aboard a small sailboat when Peltier plowed him over, the charge would have stuck.

It’s happening again. The power boater who struck and killed 10-year-old kayaker Gus Adamopoulos in Massachusetts may walk free after serving only a year of a five-year sentence for homicide by vessel. He originally faced a manslaughter rap.

The power boater, Steven Morse, admitted to drinking multiple beers during the day, although he passed breath tests administered after the 2010 accident. He told police he hadn’t consumed any other intoxicants. A witness testified he’d smoked marijuana with Morse prior to the fatal collision. Morse is out on bail while his appeal works its way through the courts.

There isn’t much the paddling community can do for the Adamopoulos or Snyder families. The sympathy of strangers will not bring their loved ones back. Neither outcome feels just. Are we simply at the mercy of power boaters? Apparently. It seems running over and killing kayakers only warrants a slap on the wrist. The onus is on paddlers to protect themselves. Paddle defensively and don’t assume anyone shares your efforts to boat responsibly.

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July 6, 2014 4:31 pm

I do not know the whole stories here but I know people. And people think the laws don’t apply to them because they are on bicycles or kayaks. And when they get hit they cry that it was the other persons fault. I am a captain and acan not count anymore how many close calls I have had with kayakers. It truly amazes me how stupid they can be. “Something big coming, let me paddle out in front of it”. It happens a lot. Look up the Navigation Rules of the Road. It is the law of the water. Kayakers must abide by this just as much as ships. I would have to guess that those in this story broke some rule in there and that is why the other person got off so lightly. Again I wasn’t there so I am just guessing. Please KNOW YOUR “USCG NAVIGATION RULES OF THE ROAD.” It could save your life.

Daniel Stobie
January 30, 2014 11:52 am

Amazed at the ‘non- number’ of comments here, for sure, there are hardly words,,, but this Injustice went on there as it did without some “noise”?! Sort of new to Kayaking, so no idea what laws are on this around here in the Pacific Northwest, I’ll look that up.

Rebecca Youngblood
January 30, 2014 7:21 am

I’m so horrified that the justice system does not allow room for common sense. Why are these folks not charged at least wih involuntary manslaughter? And the guy who admitted to drinking and driving should at least get a dwi and wreckless endangerment. He admitted it! I’m so sorry for these families losses. Such a tragedy – if boaters weren’t so stupid and would look where they were going. That guy has it on his conscience now though. Killing a father and child…

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