why is the coast guard patroling the colorado rivir looking for drunk college kids on spring break?? isn't that a violation of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.
Spring breakup Coast Guard helps college kids stay safe and sober
Judi Villa The Arizona Republic Mar. 25, 2006 12:00 AM
LAKE HAVASU CITY - Matt McCarthy of the Coast Guard spotted two college-age guys from the back of his patrol boat. Each had a beer in his hand, and the two looked to be pushing a boat from the beach into the water.
McCarthy peered through binoculars as the Coast Guard boat turned around to circle the narrow channel again.
"I think those guys are under way," McCarthy said, taking another look. "Nope, not yet. We might have scared them."
For the first time since 1998, the Coast Guard has come to Lake Havasu City to help local police and sheriff's deputies patrol the waterways, which are packed every year with thousands of spring break partiers.
For about a month each spring, college kids transform an idyllic stretch of the Colorado River into a party zone of booze, skin and thumping music. They jump from the highest cliffs and tie their rented boats together for drinking parties.
With them comes underage drinking, drunken boating and fighting.
This week, though, word spread fast that the Coast Guard's Maritime Safety and Security Team is on the water, inspecting boats for proper safety equipment, administering field sobriety tests to drivers and providing extra eyes to keep tabs on potential trouble.
After informal discussions with local law enforcement, the Coast Guard decided to contribute 24 crew members and three 25-foot boats, which they brought to Arizona on trailers.
"We're not trying to get in the way of any fun," said James McLay, the team's deployment leader. "We're trying to promote a safe time."
Partiers and locals both say this year's festivities have been unusually tame, but it's hard to say if that's because of inclement weather or an increased law enforcement presence on the waters.
Mike Bolinn, 20, who came to Lake Havasu City from Seattle, had his theory.
"If you're doing something wrong and somebody's watching, you're going to get in trouble," Bolinn said. "No one wants to get in trouble."
Still, there were plenty of scantily clad college women and men with beads around their necks to toss at women who would take off their tops.
Lake Havasu City, which exploded in popularity after it was the background for MTV's spring break coverage in 1995, still ranks as one of the best spring break hangouts in the world, according to the Travel Channel.
The Coast Guard crew, based in San Diego, had an unusually laid-back week patrolling the Colorado. Typically they work homeland security, terrorism and drug interdiction. This week there were even a few women who wanted their picture taken with Officer Josh Field after he boarded their boat, and someone suggested the Coast Guard men put out their own beefcake calendar.
"It'd be awful nice duty," said Neil Rodgers, 80, a winter visitor who served in the Coast Guard during World War II. He watched the crews pulling over boaters all week. "I wish I could have had that when I was in the Coast Guard."
Even McCarthy, 24, admitted the party on the water looked like fun. "I should come back one year when I'm not working," he said.
Safety comes first
The Coast Guard will remain here until Sunday, boarding boat after boat, counting life jackets, making sure horns work and warning underage college kids not to have even a sip of beer.
"Everybody hold up your life jacket, so I can see it," Field said as he boarded one boat. "Beautiful. Be safe."
No deaths, no injuries Although no one has drowned here this year during spring break, Coast Guard statistics indicate that 484 boaters drowned in the United States in 2004. Ninety percent of them weren't wearing a life jacket. This week there were no serious injuries at Lake Havasu City.
The fairly minor mishaps included a man who pinned a leg between two boats and another man who fell off a boat and hit his head.
"Bring your vessel to a stop," Field called out to a nearby boat. It was the second time in two days the Coast Guard had stopped Justin Sanchez, 21, and his friends from Colorado. Field wanted to see life jackets for all eight people on board. Was there a designated driver?
Actually, there were three. Sanchez, who was spending his second spring break in Lake Havasu City, said that last year, when the Coast Guard wasn't patrolling the waters, his group skipped the designated driver.
"If you know you're going to be pulled over, you're going to be more safe," Sanchez said.
"We're not messing around," said Petty Officer Jeff Hernandez, 24. "You drink and you boat and most likely we're going to find you."
Fines up to $1,000 In the past week, the Coast Guard has boarded more than 100 boats on the Colorado River. Because the river runs through Arizona and California, it is a federal waterway. Those caught boating with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent or above face civil fines up to $1,000. They also can be prosecuted criminally. Citations or warnings are given for safety violations.
"I think it's a good idea. People are crazy," said Ashleigh Greene, 20, who lives in Lake Havasu City. "I think it'll make people make smarter choices, instead of doing something stupid, if they know somebody's actually watching this time."
At the popular Copper Canyon, crowds were smaller than normal as a Coast Guard boat motored through to "let our presence be known," Field said. The Coast Guard took special note of the anchored boats where everyone was drinking, in order to check on them when the partiers began to move again.
Some boaters have been stopped three or four times.
"We're all over the lake," McCarthy said. "Just because we talked to somebody once doesn't mean we won't talk to them again.
"They never know when we're going to come up."