QUEENSBURY -- A Queensbury town justice has dismissed a charge filed against a powerboat operator who hit and killed a kayaker on Lake George last year.
Queensbury Town Justice Robert McNally found that the kayak that Donald R. Peltier hit near Elizabeth Island last June 9 was not considered a "sailing" vessel under state law, so Peltier was not required to yield the right of way to it.
Peltier, 73, of Queensbury, was cited after a collision with a kayak being paddled by Peter G. Snyder, 63, of Troy. Snyder drowned after the two boats collided.
A grand jury declined to file any criminal charges in the case, instead directing that the non-criminal count equal to a traffic ticket be filed.
Peltier's lawyer, Kurt Mausert, had asked McNally to dismiss the charge because he said it was not supported by state law.
McNally wrote that there was an "express exclusion of kayaks from the provisions of the Navigation Law."
"The Navigation Law clearly states that a kayak is not a vessel," Mausert said.
McNally's ruling can be appealed in Warren County Court, and Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy, whose office was the special prosecutor on the case, said an appeal was being considered.
"It is just common sense that a motor should yield the right of way to a kayak," Murphy said. "Kayaks are slower, less maneuverable and paddled."
He said the statute was written in 1956, when kayaks were far less prevalent, and his office was considering lobbying state legislators to have the law changed.
"Paddlers should be protected from motor boaters on New York state lakes and rivers," Murphy said.
Peltier could have faced up to 15 days in jail and a fine of up to $100.
Snyder and his wife were kayaking south on the lake when Peltier hit him broadside, travelling at low speed in a new boat.
Snyder was in a blue kayak on a windy, cloudy day and was not wearing a life jacket.
The collision, and a subsequent drowning of a canoeist whose boat was tipped by waves from a powerboat, had opened a debate about interaction on Lake George between paddlers and powerboaters.
Mausert, a kayaker, said the state Legislature has to change the law in order for kayaks to be considered vessels under state law.