Preliminary hearing into Clear Lake boat crash

May 20, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
A preliminary hearing gets underway Tuesday at Lake County Superior Court into a troubling case. A powerboat slammed into a sailboat at night, killing a woman -- and it's the man who happened to be steering the sailboat at the time who is facing manslaughter charges. The I-Team uncovers new evidence that the accident may not have been his fault.

Bismarck Dinius and his lawyer are eager to get the preliminary hearing underway.

"It's been awhile and I'm looking forward to moving forward and getting this behind me and going on with my life," says Dinius.

Dinius faces a manslaughter charge from a boat crash in April of 2006. He happened to be steering a friend's sailboat on Clear Lake past nine o'clock at night when a powerboat roared out of the darkness, hit the sailboat from behind, flew through the air crushing the cabin, snapping the mast and landed in the water on the other side. All five people on the sailboat were hurt, but Lynn Thornton of Willows died from her injuries. She was the sailboat owner's fiancé.

"She was an angel, an absolute angel," says sailboat owner Mark Weber.

Prosecutors did not charge the powerboat driver, Russell Perdock. He's the number two man in the Lake County Sheriff's Department.

Dan Noyes: "I wonder if you feel bad about this other guy taking the blame for what happened?"

Russell Perdock: "See you later."

They charged Bismarck Dinius, claiming he was boating under the influence of alcohol and that the sailboat's lights were off at the time.

The defense will counter that with two experts. First, William Chilcott. He's a marine safety engineer and life-long powerboat racer who examined the sailboat's lights and concluded they were on at the time of the crash.

"In fact, the stern light went out at the time of impact, but it was still hot enough that it in fact did stretch when it broke," says Chilcott.

Chilcott says the filaments inside the bulbs stretched at the time of impact -- evidence the lights were on. He adds, Perdock violated many laws of navigation.

"Rule 18-A4 says that a powerboat should remain clear of a sailboat, no matter what direction it's going," says Chilcott.

The second key defense report comes from perhaps the foremost marine accident investigator in the state -- the man who actually taught Lake County sheriff's investigators how to do their job.

That expert, Wes Dodd, also concluded the sailboat's lights were on and that "the proximate cause of Lynn Thornton's death ... was the unsafe speed of Mr. Perdock." Dodd also wrote, even if Dinius had not been drinking, he still "would not have been able to maneuver the sailboat in time to avoid a collision."

Prosecutors tell us they have received the defense reports -- they won't comment on them, and will press ahead with tomorrow's hearing.

"This is a really good example of how things can go really awry for an innocent person," says Dinius.

We'll have more on this story Tuesday at 6:00 p.m.

ABC7 Extra:

We've posted a new I-Team blog about the boat accident case with the reports from the defense experts here.

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