Boat Race Operators May Lose Permit : Unauthorized Course Change Made, Orange County Officials Say
The operators of an Irvine Lake drag boat race, in which a 9-year-old girl was killed when a boat went out of control and ran ashore, may have their permit revoked because of what Orange County officials contend was an unauthorized change in the race course.
“They went ahead and reversed the doggone direction of the race,” said Supervisor Bruce Nestande, who on Monday called for a ban on further races. He said he will call for revocation of the permit for future racing dates at today’s Board of Supervisors meeting.
According to Nestande aide Ernie Schneider, the terms of a five-year permit granted to race operators Douglas Elliot and Bill Andrews specify that the course run in a northerly direction, toward the middle of the lake. While race officials are allowed to make some changes for water level, they must stick to a generally northerly course, he said.
The way Sunday’s course was set up, Schneider said, the racers “would be headed right for the crowd.”
“I would categorically deny that,” said Peter Doyle, an attorney representing the National Drag Boat Assn.
Doyle said the racers were headed toward mud flats, not spectators. He said the permit gives race officials the flexibility to decide the course layout.
“They’ve run the course that way on several occasions. You have to run according to the water level,” he said. “If we’d run to the north Sunday, you would have had racers headed into a wall--it’s called a dam.”
Doyle said the course, following a straight line, has been run in both directions in past races and added that the reversed course was, in fact, safer. He noted that a spectator injury in a 1982 crash occurred when the racers were speeding in the other direction.
“The more shallow the water, the less rollers you have,” he said, explaining that rollers are the return wave from a boat’s wake hitting the shore.
Such rollers, which can cause a boat to become airborne, are more pronounced in deeper water, whereas they dissipate quickly at shallow levels. The race course used Sunday finished in shallower water.
The water surface at Irvine Lake was about 8,000 acre-feet Sunday. The lake’s capacity is about 25,000 acre-feet.
Brandy Branchflower of Burbank was killed instantly Sunday when the steering failed in a boat driven by James Lange of Simi Valley, sending the craft careening at about 45 m.p.h. into a shoreline crowd about 400 yards past the finish line.
Doyle said the steering failure is extremely rare and added: “I would say about 99.9% of the accidents happen during the race and not after the boat passes the finish line. Nobody in the NDBA or at Irvine Lake ever conceived that there could be an incident in this part of the race. . . .”
Doyle said the permit allows for last-minute changes in the course, such as those made Sunday.
If the county does not revoke the permit, race operators may still be blocked from holding more drag races on the lake, said a spokesman for the Irvine Co., which owns the surrounding land and leases the property to the two men.
Company representatives will discuss the incident with Elliot and Andrews, spokesman Jerry Collins said, and a decision will be made within two weeks whether to continue the races. (Another event is scheduled June 21.)
Neither Elliot nor Andrews was available for comment Tuesday.