Boat crash trial: Perdock takes the stand

August 11, 2009 7:20:21 PM PDT
The big moment finally came Tuesday afternoon in the case of the fatal boat crash on Clear Lake. The man driving the powerboat that slammed into a sailboat took the stand. He is a top official in the Lake County Sheriff's Department. Last week, the prosecution surprised everyone by not calling him to testify. Today he became a hostile witness for the defense.

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Bismarck Dinius is standing trial for felony boating under the influence, causing the death of sailboat passenger Lynn Thornton. The accusation is that Dinius was drinking and steering the sailboat at night with its running lights off, at the time of the collision. In court Tuesday afternoon, all four survivors from the sailboat watched as powerboat driver and Lake County Sheriff's Captain Russell Perdock took the stand.

Haltom: "Did you see the sailboat before impact?"

Perdock: "No. I saw the green tint from my navigation light on the side of something... and there was a collision."

Perdock testified he saw no lights on the sailboat before the crash, but admitted he was not wearing his prescription glasses.

Haltom: "Did you see the sails?"

Perdock: "No."

Haltom: "Even when you were vaulting up in the air, you didn't see the sails?"

Perdock: "No."

The defense peppered him with questions about inconsistencies in his interviews and testimony in the civil case, including the issue of speed. Perdock now says he was traveling about 35 miles an hour at the time of the crash.

In 2006, he told investigators the needle on his speedometer was pointing straight up.

Haltom: "If the speed indicator was pointing up, how fast would that have been?"

Pedock: "Fifty, fifty-five."

Haltom: "Fifty-eight?"

Perdock: "I won't argue."

Perdock oversaw investigations at the sheriff's office at the time of the accident, and he says the sheriff ordered him not to take part in the boat crash investigation. Perdock admits giving suggestions to the district attorney's investigator on the case -- a fellow member of the local Masonic Lodge.

Earlier in the day, on the key issue of whether the sailboat's navigational lights on, sailboat owner Mark Weber testified he turned them on at the dock.

Weber: "I turned the running light switch on, got out of the boat and looked at the lights."

Hopkins: "You did a little movement where you bent over to your right?"

Weber: "No, I got out of the boat, and walked around behind and made sure the stern light was on."

Brian Stole testified he witnessed the crash from shore, that the powerboat was running about 50 miles an hour and both boats had their running lights on.

Stole: "I did notice that there was a boat going too fast across the water and I saw that boat go across the water and I saw it hit something, so I saw two sets of lights come together."

Haltom: "You saw two sets of lights come together?"

Stole: "Right. Correct."

Stole described the sound of the crash "like a stick of dynamite."

We also heard from two passengers who were going out for their first cruise on a sailboat that night.

"I heard a sound like a boat accelerating, turned around, turned back and said we're going to get hit and then it was lights out, dark as can be," testified sailboat passenger Zina Dotti.

Dotti's husband performed CPR on Thornton and tried to shield the victim from her boyfriend and sailboat owner, Mark Weber.

"Mark was behind me looking for Lynn and at that point, I didn't want him to see her, so I just kept him behind me," testified sailboat passenger Ed Dominguez. "He kept getting loud, and then finally I just told him to just go sit down and be quiet, Lynn's right here and then they were quiet."

On tap for Wednesday, Perdock's ex-wife and other witnesses who will contradict his testimony on the issues of speed and where he was before the crash.

BLOG: Perdock a hostile witness

The I-Team's Dan Noyes is following this story directly from inside the Lake County courthouse. Follow his updates from the trial on his Twitter page: twitter.com/dannoyes and check out his blog for a compilation of the day's events.

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