Victim's family: "Wrong man charged"

February 19, 2009 9:25:54 PM PST
It's very unusual in a manslaughter case for a victim's family to speak out for the defendant. But that's what's happening in the fatal boat crash case in Clear Lake

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The first story we did a year-and-a-half ago posed two simple questions. Is the wrong man being charged? Are the authorities in Lake County trying to protect one of their own? Now, the family of the woman killed in that crash is speaking out with a definite "yes."

"Lynn was an amazing special person, of course, she's my little sister," said Roger Thomsen.

Lynn Thornton died after a horrible boat crash in April of 2006. She and her friends were wrapping up a sunset cruise -- it was a still night with little wind -- when a power boat roared out of the darkness, launching over the sailboat, snapping the mast and crushing the cabin.

The person driving the power boat was the No. 2 man in the Lake County Sheriff's Department, Russell Perdock.

"Mr. Perdock just slammed into 'em, he wasn't paying attention and it resulted in the death of my sister," said Thomsen.

However, prosecutors ignored the speed of Perdock's boat. He admitted going as fast as 45 miles an hour, and an independent investigation found that Perdock had broken the law by failing to maintain a safe speed.

They charged Thornton's friend, who happened to be steering the sailboat at the time of the crash. He had been drinking, and prosecutors claimed the boat's running lights were off.

Dan Noyes: "You have, though, some conflicting testimony whether the lights were on or not."

Jon Hopkins (Lake County DA, August 2007): "No."

Noyes: "There are several people who saw the lights on."

Hopkins: "No, there are not."

In all, the I-Team identified nine people -- on the sailboat or on shore -- who say the sailboat's running lights, cabin lights, or both, were on.

Still, the man steering the sailboat at the time, Bismarck Dinius, faces felony charges of manslaughter and boating under the influence.

"I couldn't believe that he was not charged and that they were going after me," said Dinius.

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

Perdock: "See you later."

From the beginning, Perdock, the owner of the power boat, has refused to answer our questions and he declined to be interviewed for this report.

Now, the victim's family members are letting their opinions be known.

"Russell Perdock got away with murder," said Thomsen.

Thornton's brothers and sister-in-law have sent letters to the judge in the case, saying, "We are convinced beyond any doubt that Russell Perdock, and only Russell Perdock, is responsible for Lynn's death." "She would not have wanted the wrong person to be prosecuted." "It's obvious? Perdock's ridiculous speed was the cause of Lynn's death."

They are asking the judge to reduce the felonies against Dinius to misdemeanors. The court takes up the issue Friday morning.

Noyes: "Was he doing something wrong in your mind?"

Jude Thomsen: "Not at all, he was just on board ? he just accidentally sat behind the tiller, because I could have been charged if I was behind the tiller, that's how I see it."

Roger Thomsen: "I really don't think that they had a choice, my sister or anybody on that boat had a choice of what was going to happen to 'em. Mr. Perdock just slammed into 'em, he wasn't paying attention and it resulted in the death of my sister."

Thornton has a 20-year-old son who has had a very difficult time with his mother's death. He also is writing a letter to the judge in support of Dinius.

The I-Team will be in court Friday and will update this story on ABC7 News at 6.

You can read the letters from Thornton's family in a new I-Team blog here.

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