The trial of a man accused of watercraft homicide in a deadly Lake Tapps boating collision is shaping up to be a nasty fight about who was responsible for the wreck: The man charged with five crimes or the real estate agent who died.
Lawyers on both sides delivered their opening statements this morning in Pierce County Superior Court.
Deputy prosecutor Mark Sanchez told jurors the blame for the Sept. 29, 2008, collision clearly belongs to defendant Neil Richard Larsen, 43.
Larsen had been drinking alcohol and was speeding when his 22-foot ski boat slammed into and rode over an 18-foot Bayliner piloted by Ron Scott that night, Sanchez said.
The propeller from Larsen’s boat sliced into Scott, who fell into the water and drown. Four passengers on his craft suffered broken bones or severe lacerations. One woman’s leg was nearly amputated.
Larsen has pleaded not guilty to one count of watercraft homicide and four counts of watercraft assault.
“On that night, the defendant made a number of bad decisions, each one compounding the other,” Sanchez said.
Larsen’s attorney, Michael Schwartz, countered that Scott caused the wreck by parking his boat at the outlet of a narrow channel with its lights off. Scott was legally drunk at the time and had marijuana in his system, Schwartz told jurors.
“Ron Scott ignored all the rules of boater safety,” Schwartz said. “He turned that boat into a land mine.”
Testimony in the courtroom of Judge John McCarthy is expected to last for up to a month.
Sanchez told jurors the evidence will show Larsen had three alcoholic beverages in the hours before the wreck and was driving his boat at 25 mph at the time of the collision. the nighttime speed limit on the lake is 5-8 mph, depending on the location, the deputy prosecutor said.
Larsen’s blood-alcohol level measured .06 four hours after the collision, and police reported that he smelled of alcohol and had bloodshot, watery eyes, Sanchez told jurors.
He went on to describe what he called “the carnage and utter chaos” left in the wake of the collision and played for jurors a portion of a 911 call one of the passengers from Scott’s boat made following the crash.
Jeff Ausbun frantically called out, “Where’s Ron? Where’s Ron? Where’s Ron? Where’s Ron?” while talking to a 911 dispatcher. Those injured in the crash can be heard moaning in the background.
Sanchez added that the evidence would show Scott, 49, was operating his boat with his navigational lights on and that Larsen should have seen him.
“He did not see what was there to be seen, which was Ron Scott making his way home with his passengers,” the deputy prosecutor said. “I’d ask you to find the defendant guilty.”
Schwartz told jurors Scott unfortunately died as a result of his own drinking, marijuana use and poor decisions that night. Scott’s blood-alcohol level was measured at .08, and he had marijuana in his system, the defense attorney said.
Schwartz said the evidence would show the stern light on Scott’s boat, which was attached on a pole, was not operating at the time of the collision.
He intimated that Scott either turned it off because one of his female passengers had taken off her clothes some time before the collision or that the woman damaged the light when she jumped into the lake or climbed back into the boat, also before the crash.
“He turned his lights off. That’s right: He turned his lights off,” Schwartz told jurors. “He made himself and his passengers invisible. By doing so, he placed his own life, his passengers’ lives and the lives of any approaching boaters in danger.”
There’s no way his client could have seen him as he motored through the channel on his way home from a lakeside restaurant about 10:40 p.m., he said.
Larsen was supposed to go to trial in September, but Pierce County Judge Vicki Hogan declared a mistrial after learning that two Bonney Lake police officers scheduled to testify were subjects of an internal police department investigation on an unrelated matter.
Schwartz won the right to use the results of that investigation to undermine the credibility of the officers – one of whom resigned – should they be called to testify.