Waterways in Chester County presumably will be a bit more litter-free this year, thanks to the presumed efforts, albeit court-induced, of Graham William Nelson and the investigative work of Robert J. Bonney, a state water conservation officer.On Friday, Nelson, 45, of Valley, was sentenced to six months probation after pleading guilty to one count of boating under the influence (BUI). He had been caught in June by Bonney piloting a Jet Ski while intoxicated on the Schuylkill River near Phoenixville.
As part of his sentence, Nelson was ordered to complete 20 hours of litter collection along state waterways, and to complete a course in boater safety.
Although BUI is a crime in the state on the same misdemeanor level as driving under the influence, with the same requirements of a minimum blood-alcohol content, it is prosecuted in Chester County far less frequently than its motor vehicle-based cousin. Nelson's plea agreement was the first for such an offense in recent memory.
According to the facts of the case as given to Judge David Bortner by Assistant District Attorney Debra Ireland and supplemented by court records, Bonney was on patrol about 8 p.m. June 25 near the state Fish & Boat Commission boat launch area in the 1000 block of Black Rock Road.
He noticed two people operating personal watercraft on the river, and checked his watch. Jet Skis and other such craft are required to be off the water by sunset, which on that date was 8:41 p.m.
About 8:47 p.m., the two watercrafts came to the launch. One of the Jet Skis was piloted by Nelson and the other by a woman who Bonney identified as his girlfriend, 50-year-old Lisa Romano.
Bonney checked the registration and fire extinguisher equipment on both skis, and found that the registration for Nelson's had expired in March. Nelson appeared nervous at the time, with his hands shaking and his eyes bloodshot and glassy, the water officer said.
When he took Nelson to his patrol car, Boney said, he noticed that Nelson smelled of alcohol. When Boney asked him how much he had had to drink that day, Nelson first said he had not had anything to drink. But when the boating officer said he smelled alcohol on his breath, Nelson said he had had "a beer at lunch."
Nelson then agreed to a breath test. Bonney said he registered a 0.10 percent blood alcohol level, over the state limit of 0.08 percent.
"How much have you really had to drink today?" Bonney asked.
"I had two or three beers at lunch," Nelson replied. What time was that, the water officer wondered. "Twelve o'clock," Nelson replied.
Nelson then failed two field sobriety tests, and was arrested by Bonney. A later test found he had a 0.155 percent blood alcohol content, almost twice the legal limit.
In addition to his six-months probation, Bortner ordered Nelson to pay a $300 fine and get a drug and alcohol evaluation.