Kali's Law protecting boaters awaits governor's signature

Big boating weekend ahead for Memorial Day

By Jessie Degollado - Reporter, Sal Salazar - Photojournalist

CANYON LAKE, Texas - James and Donna Gorzell are relieved that the law named for their daughter Kali finally made it through the Texas Legislature after a failed attempt in 2017.

“All we need is the signature, Gov. Abbott,” said Donna Gorzell, who compared the passage of the bill to crossing the finish line at a marathon.

Kali’s Law would require that lanyards be attached to kill switches on boats 26 feet in length or less while they’re underway. 

Kali Gorzell was a popular 16-year-old student at Smithson Valley High School who was killed in 2012 when she fell off a boat that had turned and was hit by the propeller.

“Had the boat driver used his cutoff switch, Kali would probably be with us today,” James Gorzell said.

But as a result, her father said, “Kali started saving lives the day we lost her.”

He said thanks to social media, the news coverage of her death and their push for Kali’s Law, “We saw a 50% drop in boating fatalities last year.”

RELATED: Father who lost daughter in boating accident isn't giving up on passing Kali's Law

But with one of the biggest boating weekends of the year coming over the long Memorial Day weekend, her parents said they worry people will die between now and Sept. 1 when the law takes effect.

“We hope they start doing the right thing right now,” James Gorzell said. “This is as good a weekend as any to start.”

He said some boaters could be hesitant, thinking a lanyard would restrict their movement in the boat, but James Gorzell compared the situation to resistance to seat belt laws.

“We didn’t want to use seat belts, but it’s just automatic now,” he said. “As long as the driver is using a switch, it protects everybody in the boat.”

Robert Salzberg, who was about to launch his boat in Canyon Lake, said, “I have no problem at all with it.”

A longtime boating enthusiast, Salzberg said he agrees with the Gorzells.

“Somebody hits the throttle, snaps the boat and out the back you go, and there goes the boat,” Salzberg said.

He said not only could a person be run over by a boat as Kali was, a person could also drown.

“I can tell you from experience, that’s a long swim. And unless you’re a really good swimmer, you ain’t going to make it," Salzberg said, while looking out at Canyon Lake.

Salzberg said, if nothing else, “Just don’t get up. You’re driving a boat. You don’t do it in your car. Why do it out there?”

Kali Gorzell’s mother said that, thanks to the awareness generated by Kali’s Law, “Her death is not in vain. I know she’s happy.”

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