Fatal Lake Co. boat crash case falling apart

May 19, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
There were major developments in a Lake County Superior Courtroom as a judge takes up the case of a 2006 fatal boat crash. The trial was supposed to start Tuesday, but instead, the prosecution discussed dismissing the charges.

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It was an embarrassing day for the prosecution, having to admit several missteps in the investigation.

"My mom was everything to me, she was my best friend and not a day goes by that my life hasn't been completely changed by the whole thing," John Thorton said.

The 22-year-old came to Lake County Superior Court Tuesday morning for some closure. His mother, Lynn Thornton of Willows, died one night three years ago after the sailboat she was riding in got run over by a powerboat.

The powerboat was driven by the number two official in the Lake County Sheriff's office, Russell Perdock. But, Perdock was not charged in the death, and Thornton is supporting the man who is.

"I have no idea what we're gonna walk into today, but I'm anxious to get it going," Bismarck Dinius said.

Dinius happened to be steering the sailboat at the time. He had been drinking, and prosecutors claim the sailboat's running lights were off.

"Perdock should be charged just as well, I mean it's not right that everything is being passed on to Bismarck," Thorton said.

The prosecution's case took several hits Tuesday.

The judge allowed the personnel records of former Lake County Sheriff's Sergeant Jim Beland to be entered into evidence. Beland got fired after he testified in court that superiors ordered him not to give a breath test to Russell Perdock on shore that night.

Lake County prosecutor John Langan announced that the 911 recordings from the night of the crash have somehow disappeared.

And, he turned over 110 pages of discovery that include a report from a private eye hired by Perdock three years ago.

The report quotes several witnesses who saw the sailboat's running lights on that night -- including one woman who says she spoke with sheriff's investigators just a few days after the crash.

"I've never heard of her before, clearly that's the prosecution's whole case against Mr. Dinius is based on the theory that these lights were supposedly off and why on earth am I getting this on the day the trial is supposed to start from the District Attorney's office," Dinius' attorney Victor Haltom said.

Dan Noyes: "Why not hand it over sooner if it was provided to you last year by Perdock, why not hand it over sooner to the defense?"

John Langan: "It wasn't provided to me, it was in existence in our office, when I get it, I'm going to give it to him, but why it wasn't given to me is certainly something I'm going to check out."

Judge J. Michael Byrne expressed concern that the prosecution failed to turn over evidence.

"It is a very unusual case with unusual circumstance, that continues to get unusual," Byrne said.

There was also an unusual spectator in the audience right behind Bismarck Dinius -- Perdock's ex-wife had been called to testify for the defense.

She knocks down the timeline Perdock provided to investigators that shows he was home cleaning his boat and did not take off until well past 8 p.m. Donna Perdock says he left around six.

Donna Perdock: "6-6:30, right around there, probably."

Dan Noyes: "It wasn't 8 p.m. at night?"

Donna Perdock: "No, no."

Dan Noyes: "Are you sure about that?"

Donna Perdock: "I'm pretty positive about that, yes."

But several witnesses report seeing Perdock at Konocti Harbor's outdoor bar in the hours before the crash.

Dan Noyes: "Was there a drink in his hand?"

John Yashiki-Jansen: "Yeah, yeah, there, I mean I can't tell you what it was or how many but he was walking around with a drink in his hand like everybody else."

The I-Team is hearing more and more complaints that it is Perdock who should be on trial. The prosecutor said in open court that his investigator cannot get all the work done in time for the new June 30 trial date, so he may file a motion to dismiss the charges against Dinius.

Related Links:
I-Team Blog: Boat Crash Case Dismissed?
I-Team Blog: Courtroom updates on Lake Co. boat crash hearing
Timeline for Russel Perdock

Have a tip on this or another investigation? E-mail the ABC7 I-Team or call 1-888-40-I-TEAM.

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