ELEPHANT BUTTE, N.M. (KRQE) – There are still a lot of unanswered questions about what took place at Elephant Butte Lake Wednesday afternoon. Park rangers say it looks like a ‘senior ditch day’ caused a boat to start sinking and resulted in one teenager being arrested after a car accident.
A call came in to park officials that a boat had capsized. “My understanding is the rangers were made aware of what they believed was a senior ditch day,” says Manuel Overby, chief of law enforcement and boater safety for New Mexico State Parks. However, the rangers quickly realized what the situation really was: there were too many people loaded on the boat. “These kids got on a pontoon boat and there’s a video of it surfacing on Facebook and that video shows what looks to me like the pontoon boat is about to sink or partially submerged because it’s being overloaded,” Overby says.
Las Cruces School District officials confirm at least four of the kids on the boat came from their school district. However, park officials say the whole incident is still under investigation.
When New Mexico State Police arrived around 2:30 p.m., they say some kids tried to speed away in their cars. One car rolled over with four kids in the car in their attempt to flee. New Mexico State Police says 17-year-old Juliana Mata was charged with aggravated DWI.
In the aftermath, folks who came to the lake Thursday say the incident is shocking to them. “Wow! That’s gotta be a lot of kids on a boat,” says Steve Peters, a visitor at Elephant Butte Lake
Park rangers say it is tough to patrol everywhere because of a manpower issue. “The issue that we have right now is that we are severely short-handed. We don’t have a lot of folks out working at the Butte right now,” says Overby.
“Yeah I think they probably would have noticed if they had patrols that there were that many people on one boat and probably would have stopped it before it even got that close,” says Peters.
They’re trying to bulk up their staff by getting more law enforcement trained. But as for the pontoon boat officials say they are treating it as an abandoned vessel. “And so once we identify who the owner is then we’ll have to have a discussion with them as to the appropriate avenues to be able to pick that vessel up.”
A criminal complaint indicates a teenage male passenger involved in the crash fractured his left ankle. Other teen passengers in the crash “sustained minor injuries” and bruising, according to a complaint.