This post has been updated.
A Brunswick County man has pleaded guilty to three counts of death by impaired boating, marking the first conviction of its kind in North Carolina.
Matthew Ferster of Shallotte was sentenced to nine and a half to 18½ years in prison after entering an Aug. 28 plea following a three-year investigation led by the state Wildlife Resources Commission’s Law Enforcement Division.
Ferster was driving a boat on the Waccamaw River March 29, 2020, when it collided with another boat, killing Jennifer Hayes, 26, and Megan Lynn and Garret Smith, both 21, of Columbus County.
He is the first North Carolinian to be convicted under Sheyenne’s Law.
The law, named in memory of Concord teenager Sheyenne Marshall, was approved in July 2016. Marshall was knee-boarding on Lake Norman outside of Charlotte in July 2015 when the 17-year-old was killed by an impaired boater.
At the time of her death, boating while impaired was a Class 2 misdemeanor, which carries a maximum punishment of 60 days in jail and $1,000 fine. Her family successfully got legislators to change the law to make the charge a felony.
Commission Law Enforcement Division Sgt. Matt Criscoe headed the investigation into the March 2020 collision, according to an agency release. He was assisted by a Brunswick County district attorney’s office investigator and more than 20 local, state and federal agencies.
State wildlife officers conduct active boat patrols, educational opportunities on and off the water, and pre-launch boating safety inspections in efforts to maintain safe boating in the state’s waterways.
“North Carolina Wildlife Law Enforcement Officers continue to provide a safe and enjoyable recreational boating experience to the boating public through both proactive law enforcement efforts and educational opportunities,” Wildlife Law Enforcement Capt. Branden Jones said in a statement. “The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission would like to thank each of the assisting agencies for their time and dedication during this investigation. Partnerships such as these allow for successful prosecution of crimes and justice for the victims.”