BC student reflects on boating accident

Zach Sullivan, Reporter

Following the tragic death of Miami Marlins pitcher José Fernández, few can relate to how those impacted feel better than Bakersfield College student Odalys Camacho. Camacho, 19, was involved in a boating accident on August 28, 2010, at Lake Buena Vista that left Sal Rodriguez, Camacho’s uncle, dead.

Looking back, Camacho described the experience as something she’d never forget. “It was life changing because now I don’t look at drunk driving the same. If someone’s going to drink and they need someone to pick them up I would do it because I’ve seen the damage it has done to families,” she said.

Camacho and her family were at Lake Buena Vista for her cousin’s birthday party on their boat.

“We were just hanging out with family and then my uncle decided that we should all take another trip. We had all finished taking the boat ride actually, but he said to do another one.”

According to Camacho, the family decided to do one more lap around the lake at her uncle’s request.

“We went and we got thrown off the boat a couple of times when we were water tubing. We stopped and held the orange flag up that signifies we’re stopping, don’t come near us. There was another boat that was two or three times our size, and it kept coming straight at us. We kept saying like ‘hey stop,’ we kept hollering at them and we tried to raise the flag higher, and it just wasn’t stopping, it wasn’t slowing down. We were all just kind of there like okay, is the boat going to stop?

“The boat was going so fast that it was tilted up in the water. My uncle was the only one who knew how to drive the boat, so there was like six of us in there. When he saw that the boat was coming, he turned to the side to turn the motor on, and the boat hit him head on. The boat was actually going to hit my brother but my dad actually like ducked over him and the boat hit my uncle in one of his main arteries.”

Once the boats collided, what was originally supposed to be a day of fun at the lake turned to tragedy. “The boat came over us, my dad had to push the boat off of us, and that’s when we saw my uncle. He was on the ground, and the glass windshield was shattered. There was blood everywhere and we didn’t know what to do.”

Camacho said when the boats first collided, nobody knew what to do. “The other people stopped, there was four of them. There was like a confusion at first and then we were like ‘help us help us’ and then all of us were yelling at them because none of us knew how to drive the boat, and my uncle, you know he was hit by the boat.”

She explained that despite numerous cries for help, the boat who had struck her uncle was reluctant to help. “They didn’t want to help us, the guy who actually hit us was on probation so he didn’t want to get caught. He wasn’t even supposed to take that boat out. He didn’t want to get caught so he didn’t want to help us.

We started yelling at them like, ‘hey you need to help us,’ so they tied a string to our boat and tied it to theirs and pulled us towards the docks where you load on and load off.

Then, we weren’t close enough to get off and swim, but they left us there like midway so we still needed help getting to the shore. After that we saw that they were trying to leave, my cousin jumped into their boat, and then I took off my life jacket and jumped in the water and I swam towards shore,” Camacho said.

Once she reached shore, she recalls that the people who hit them were trying to load their boat onto their trailer to flee the scene.

“After my cousin was on the boat they threw the keys, they loaded the boat to the other side of the docks and one of the guys jumped off and ran. He was trying to hurry up and get his truck so they could load the boat and leave. There was a bunch of beer cans on their boat, and they had marijuana. It was just really hard because we all were stranded in that boat in the lake, none of us knew how to drive the boat, they didn’t want to help us, and my uncle was dying.”

On October 2, 2012, two years after the incident, Judge John Lua found Justin Ennis guilty of murder in the second-degree. Ennis received 15 years to life in prison for his actions, setting the legal precedent for punishments in criminal cases of similar nature given that the facts are the same as the precedent.

According to the Kern County District Attorney, the conviction is believed to be the first of its kind in the state of California, as well as nation-wide.

“I think the most tragic part of that experience was that my uncle and his wife couldn’t have kids, they had a couple miscarriages already. One of them he had a tattoo. His wife was pregnant, she was far along, like seven or eight months, and he was so excited. They were both so excited. He wanted that more than anything in the world. Now though the child is fine and she’s so much like him, but he’s not here, he’s not here anymore,” she said.

When asked what society can do to prevent situations like the one she was involved in from happening again, Camacho stated she believes they can easily be avoided if we take more responsibility.

“We need to be more responsible, if you see someone that’s really messed up why would you let them leave your house? Why not take their keys? They might be mad in the morning but they could be dead. It just takes that one minute, that one second, and everything is gone just like that. There’s no going back, nothing you’re going to do, there’s nothing,” she said.

Camacho explained that people need to consider the risks that drinking can have on their life when they operate cars, boats, or any sort of vehicle while under the influence. “I don’t think people take drinking and driving, boating and driving, I don’t think people take drinking seriously. It doesn’t matter if it’s a boat, that was actually the first boating case in U.S. history, but it doesn’t matter if it’s a boat, or a motorcycle, anything you’re operating, your life is not the only one at risk, and it’s not right that you have that privilege over others. So not just drinking and driving, but boating and driving, you’re making a huge mistake,” Camacho said.