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Trial in fatal Lake Tapps boat crash to focus on who’s responsible

Post by Adam Lynn / The News Tribune on Jan. 13, 2011 at 1:56 pm with 7 Comments »
January 14, 2011 12:01 pm

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.

Leave a comment Comments → 7
  1. smartmoney says:

    If you are operating a boat after sunset and before dawn you must display navigation lights. However, if you are stationary you are considered anchored and are required only to display an anchor light. A single white light visible 360 degrees (unobstructed). The determination should be whether the lite/lites were obstructed. On small pleasure craft the anchor light is usually on the transom attached to a staff 1-2 ft tall. An adult sitting to one side could obstruct the light from that side of the boat making the boat invisible to someone coming from that direction.

  2. this is an over reaching prosecuting attorney

  3. its a sad one….. let him plead to manslaughter, 4 year probation, no jail time. Definitely over-reaching by the prosecutor. Larsen wasn’t legally drunk, but he was exceeding the legal speed limit at night. The prosecutor chose this fight when he decided to file homicide charges. And the cops that investigated have now been found to have lied about overtime/speed emphasis. One resigned, one was just reprimanded. And Scott’s memory has to be drug through the mud because of this prosecutor. Just sad

  4. How can Schwartz prove that Scott turned his light off? The collision could have and probably did break the filament inside the bulb or a wire somewhere that controls the light. 2. Who cares if Scott had alcohol and Mary Jane in his system? He was sitting still and hit by a drunk driver that was speeding and over-driving his own lights. 3. Where is the proof that a chick got naked, and, put her clothes over the light on Scott’s boat? Larsen was ripped way beyond the legal limit and his judgment was impaired, yet he chose to speed in his boat in the dark of night – how do defense attorneys sleep at night? I trust used car salesmen more…………….

  5. Sounds like the burdened vessel was way too fast for conditions. This defense is laughable. No over reaching here. In fact we’re seeing the same old defense. “It was the other guys fault”. This is a case of someone who should not have been behind the wheel. Driving a boat fast in the dark has a long and bloody history in court. It is always the driver of the offending boat who bears most of the responsibility.

  6. ufcfanatic says:

    Over reaching Prosecutor? Clearly those two comments are from relatives of the defendant. Larson’s BAL was .06 four hours AFTER the accident. Although seems even worse if a sober man chose to have a couple drinks and then drive 5 times over the speed limit. Larson’s deep pockets have enabled him to avoid facing any jail time to date, enjoy 2 more seasons on the lake and best of all, his “OJ like” attorney was able to have the fact that he was caught speeding at night on the same lake a year after he killed Mr. Scott. The obvious remorse displayed by the defendant is overwhelming, don’t you think? If justice does not prevail then I am more than certain karma will. I would encourage Mr. Larson to use his money to buy himself a spot in a white collared prison instead of trying to blame the man he murdered.

  7. primetimeguide says:

    Well, Smartmoney, you will certainly fail your Boater’s exam! A vessel is anchored when they are, in fact, actually anchored. Underway, but not making way is the correct term for a boat drifting, and navigational rules consider it the same as a vessel underway, and making way under propulsion. Both vessels are underway. Proving that the lights were not on is much harder than proving that the one vessel was speeding, as the result of the collision tragically does. This is one example of why all Boaters in Washington State will need to pass an exam to be able to operate them, something long overdue. Although, that won’t stop some from drinking and operating boats, or doing so stoned, either!

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