Boating under the influence is a big problem in Okaloosa. This deputy is helping stop it.
SHALIMAR — An Okaloosa County sheriff’s deputy was recognized nationally Tuesday for his unit's success in apprehending boaters under the influence and “keeping Florida’s waterways safe.”
Boating under the influence is one of the biggest problems on area waterways, with Okaloosa County leading the state in BUI arrests last year at a total of 56. The OCSO is on track to nearly double that number this year with 83 BUI arrests as of Tuesday.
Sgt. Kyle Corbitt has been a deputy with the OCSO for nine years and currently supervises the beach and marine units as well as the dive team. His focus on BUI enforcement earned him the title of Mothers Against Drunk Driving's (MADD) National Officer of the Month for September.
The organization chooses a law enforcement officer to recognize each month for his or her dedication to MADD's mission of ending drunken driving and supporting the victims of crimes.
Longtime MADD volunteer Amy Jamieson presented Corbitt with a certificate of recognition and a letter from MADD National President Alex Otte on Tuesday at the Sheriff’s Office in Shalimar. In the letter, Otte thanked Corbitt for his efforts, which she said have “saved numerous lives.”
“As a victim of boating under the influence, I know the devastation a drunk driver can bring to a family or a community beyond the roadway,” Otte said. “A drunk boater is a drunk driver and I appreciate Sgt. Corbitt’s dedication to keeping Florida’s waterways safe all year-round.”
The OCSO Marine Unit patrols nearly 270 miles of the Gulf of Mexico, and Corbitt said the county has been in the top 10 for boating crashes and fatalities for several years.
“That’s our main goal is to not be in the top 10 anymore,” he said.
Boat sales “exploded” during the COVID-19 pandemic, Corbitt added. Typically, the boating season ends during Labor Day weekend, but not this year.
The marine unit has continued to see many boaters, likely contributing to an increase in BUI arrests, Corbitt said. But increased enforcement may also play a role.
Sheriff Eric Aden said Corbitt, along with Capt. Kevin Kirkpatrick and Lt. Jason Fulghum, have been instrumental in tackling the issue.
“It’s an unfortunate statistic, but anyone who goes out in our waterways knows that it’s an area that’s highly traversed with impaired drivers," Aden said. "So they found ways to be even more efficient."
The marine unit typically has at least two boats on the water at a time. Corbitt said one of their main focuses has been Crab Island, where several incidents happen each year. They’ve also put their sights on slow speed or idol speed areas like Brooks Bridge.
“Usually when people are blowing through those zones, that's when we’ll conduct our vessel stops,” Corbitt said. “That’s the biggest thing we’ve done is focus on our slow speed or idl speed areas.”
During the off season, Corbitt said the focus shifts toward training so deputies can easily maneuver boats and deal with different elements such as currents, wind and waves. The addition of a new boat will also help the marine unit increase its presence, he said.
“We’re hoping to get to where instead of only having a few in the water we’ll have at least three on the water a day,” Corbitt said. “We’re trying to spread out more in the county because people aren’t just hanging out at Crab Island anymore. They’ve gone to Cinco Bayou or Santa Rosa Sound just because Crab Island is getting so busy.”
Although surprised to learn he was selected as MADD’s National Officer of the Month, Corbitt said it “feels good” to be recognized for his work, and that it is a part of a team effort.
“All the marine deputies and beach deputies, we’re just out there doing our job, and to be recognized for that is pretty cool,” he said. “We’re definitely not one of the biggest counties population-wise, other than during the summer, so that’s our biggest thing with BUIs is just trying to take the boating fatalities and crashes down, which I think we’re doing a pretty good job of.”