PORTLAND (AP) – A fatal accident on Sebago Lake involving an underage operator of a personal watercraft has prompted the Maine Warden Service to issue a reminder to wardens about enforcement of laws regulating the machines.

Jared Ziemann, 14, of Westbrook, died Saturday, about five hours after being struck by a Jet Ski operated by another 14-year-old.

The investigating warden, Jason Luce, said Monday he was unaware at the time that Maine law requires drivers of the machines to be 16 or older, regardless of whether they are accompanied by someone of legal operating age. Luce said he had understood the law to state that a youth could operate a personal watercraft with an older rider.

“It was one of those things I had to look at twice,” Luce said. “I was always under the assumption that as long as someone 16 and older was on the watercraft, the minor can operate it, someone underage. That does not pertain to Jet Skis.”

“Jet Ski” is a trademark name for a motorized personal watercraft.

Col. Tim Peabody, head of the Warden Service, said wardens were taught to enforce the law as written, and he was following up on Luce’s mistake by issuing a directive to wardens about the Jet Ski law. “I wasn’t aware of how he was interpreting the law,” Peabody said.

The law regarding the age of personal watercraft operators was enacted in 1997, Peabody said. It contrasts with a state law allowing a person as young as 12 to operate a motorboat without supervision.

Luce said his investigation found the incident was not the result of recklessness, and he doubted anyone would be charged.

“There were no power turns, or going too fast or too close to the shore,” Luce said. “If it was a 50-year-old on the machine, the same circumstances would have happened. I have no doubt of that in my mind.”

Christine Thibeault, a juvenile prosecutor for the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office, said a decision on filing charges is not likely until next week.

Ziemann was hit after he fell off a two-person Jet Ski driven by his 16-year-old brother, said Mark Latti, a Warden Service spokesman. The craft that struck him was carrying the operator, another 14-year-old and a 17-year-old.

All of those involved were part of a Westbrook swim team and were attending a gathering at a parent’s cottage at Ward’s Cove in Standish.

In 2001, there were 4,900 personal watercraft registered in Maine and three reported accidents, according to the Warden Service.

The only fatality involving one of the machines in 2001 was on the Kennebec River, Latti said.

AP-ES-08-05-03 1320EDT



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