No Drinking Charge to Be Filed in Boat Injury Case

Times Staff Writer

A Carpinteria man whose boat propeller severely cut a 12-year-old swimmer at a Ventura County beach will not be charged with drunk driving because officers failed to check his blood-alcohol level, authorities said this week.

Mark Mansfield, 26, who was arrested Aug. 28 at La Conchita Beach on suspicion of operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol, had refused to submit voluntarily to a chemical test after the incident.

Although sheriff's deputies "could and should have taken him to the hospital to have his blood drawn forcibly," they failed to do so, according to a report this week by the district attorney's office.

"Sometimes the pressures of the moment dictate the situation," said Vincent J. O'Neill, chief deputy district attorney. "We don't intend to second-guess the deputies. They have a difficult job and they made their decision."

Sgt. Thomas Odle of the Sheriff's Department's major crimes unit said the decision not to forcibly obtain a blood sample was made by a veteran officer who has since retired.

"It may or may not have been a wrong decision," Odle said. "But to second-guess him would be inappropriate on my part."

Twin Sisters Hit

Mansfield, who has been charged with the misdemeanor of reckless boating rather than felony drunk driving, was arrested after his small motorboat struck two 12-year-old sisters swimming in 4 feet of water.

Natalie Flinn of Canyon Country underwent surgery after the boat's propeller cut her face, head, arms and upper body. Her twin sister, Christine, suffered bruises.

According to witnesses, Mansfield had been operating the boat recklessly and extremely close to swimmers, who had shouted at him to stay clear of the surf.

When deputies arrived, they said they detected a "slight odor" of alcohol on Mansfield, who told officers that he had consumed two beers several hours before the incident.

A test used to gauge a suspect's intoxication by checking his ability to smoothly track a moving object with his eyes indicated that Mansfield's ability might have been impaired, deputies said.

However, additional "field sobriety tests" designed to check his balance and coordination were not given until an hour later, so that Mansfield could "calm down and relax" after the incident, deputies said.

When the tests were finally administered, Mansfield performed them perfectly, they said.

"Apart from exercising extremely reckless and poor judgment in the manner in which he operated his boat, there is no indication that his ability to operate the boat was impaired," the district attorney's report said.

Mansfield, who could face a six-month jail sentence if found guilty of reckless boating, will appear in court Tuesday. His refusal to submit to a chemical test, which could have cost him his license for six months if he were driving a car, carries no penalty for boaters, O'Neill said.

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