The deaths of two men in a boat crash on Lake Jordan the night of July 4 is exactly why Elmore County District Attorney Randall Houston pushed for those who drink and drive on the water to be punished as severely as those who drive under the influence on the roads.
Damion Bruno, 41, of Clanton was arrested and charged last week with two counts of reckless murder in the deaths of Clay Jackson, 26, of Deatsville and Travis House, 17, of Marbury. Bruno was also charged with first-degree assault for injuries suffered by Caleb Peters, second-degree assault for injuries incurred by Randy Young and for driving under the influence. Bruno is being held in the Elmore County Jail on $750,000 bond.
According to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, Bruno’s blood alcohol content was 0.11 at the time of the collision; a BAC of .08 is considered legally intoxicated in Alabama.
“We’re going to pursue it aggressively,” Houston said of the Bruno case. “Yet again we have two people dead and two injured from a senseless act. Come on, it’s dark out there. What are you thinking? I know some people who were up there that night and it could have easily been any number of people just minding their business.
“The last thing we want to do is ruin somebody’s life by putting them in jail. But I also don’t want to see innocent people’s lives get ruined because somebody made the mistake of drinking and driving on the road or the lake.”
Jackson, House and Young were passengers on a 19-foot Sea Hunt center console driven by Peters when a collision occurred with a 19-foot Maxum runabout driven by Bruno between the mouth of Weoka Creek and Sears Slough, near Lake Jordan Marina, according to Capt. Gary Buchanan, the commander of the ALEA’s Marine Patrol. Peters’ boat was returning from a fireworks show on Lake Jordan when the collision occurred between 9:30 and 10 p.m. July 4, Buchanan said.
The bodies of Jackson and House were recovered from the lake about 48 hours after the collision.
“After the fireworks show, Mr. Bruno was operating his vessel under the influence of alcohol in a reckless manner and at a rate of speed that was extremely dangerous for anyone he came in contact with,” 19th Judicial Circuit chief assistant district attorney C.J. Robinson said. “His boat collided with the other vessel and caused the deaths of two men and injured two more.”
If convicted, Bruno could face 10 to 99 years in prison on each count of reckless murder.
Until the law was strengthened, boating under the influence (BUI) was an unclassified felony with a maximum sentence of five years. Now, BUI offenders who cause accidents resulting in serious injury or death can face felony charges, up to 10 years in prison and $15,000 in fines.
“This kind of case is why we sought the enhanced legislation,” Houston said. “But this one is a reckless murder charge, which goes beyond a DUI. We want people to know that when they visit the lake we want them to have a good time. I grew up on Lake Martin, although it wasn’t as active then as it is now. So because of the number of people using the lakes, especially during a holiday, people have to be more careful.
“It used to be acceptable to go to the lake, drink all day, get on a boat and think nothing of it. We’ve got to change that attitude. It’s just as dangerous to drink and drive on the lake as it is to drink and drive on the road.”
Houston met Jackson’s mother, Leslie Fuller, for the first time July 30 at Bruno’s initial court appearance and said he empathized with her sense of loss.
“She was devastated,” Houston said. “My brother was killed at an early age in a freak accident and I don’t think my mother ever got over it. Even when they’re grown, they’re still your child. Unfortunately, no matter what we do, we can’t bring them back. We can never make them whole.”