Closing arguments in fatal boat crash trial

August 18, 2009 10:36:12 PM PDT
The Lake County fatal boat crash case is now in the hands of a jury. Forty-one-year-old Bismarck Dinius faces a felony boating under the influence charge for causing the death of a passenger on the sailboat he was steering.

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All the major players were in court Tuesday for closing arguments, and for the first time -- to ABC7 -- the man driving the powerboat, a sheriff's official, expressed remorse to the victim's family.

Dan Noyes: "Russell, the family of Lynn Thornton believes that you are to blame for her death. What do you say to the family?"

Russell Perdock: :"Dan, I can't comment."

Lake County Sheriff's Captain Russell Perdock was driving his powerboat a reported 40 to 55 miles an hour at night when it slammed into a sailboat, killing Lynn Thornton. Her brother and sister-in-law were there in court Tuesday, backing the defendant who was steering the sailboat.

"I'm here to support Bismarck Dinius because the real culprit is not in this courtroom today. The real culprit is Russell Perdock," said Thornton's brother Roger Thomsen.

For the first time publicly, Perdock addressed the family.

Noyes: "You've never expressed remorse over her death, would you like to do that at some point?"

Perdock: "I am sorry for the family of Lynn Thornton, it's a terrible loss, I'm sure, but I'm also dealing with that process myself."

Perdock is on medical leave from the sheriff's department.

He came to court Tuesday morning to oppose the release of information about an internal affairs investigation against him into possible misconduct. The judge agreed, saying the matter did not relate to the boat crash case.

"The evidence shows that Mr. Dinius is guilty of this charge," said Lake County District Attorney John Hopkins.

In his closing argument, Hopkins said Dinius caused Thornton's death because he was under the influence of alcohol and didn't make sure the sailboat's navigational lights were on before the crash.

"His responsibility is like if you get in somebody else's car and you drive, it's nighttime, you make sure the lights are working. It's your responsibility," said Hopkins.

Defense attorney Victor Haltom countered by discussing several witnesses who saw the sailboat's lights on as it left the dock, and he pointed the finger at Perdock, the powerboat driver.

"He failed to maintain an adequate lookout under the conditions of visibility that existed at the time to avoid a collision," said Haltom. "He obviously failed to travel at a safe speed."

Defense witness Brian Stole testified he saw two sets of lights come together that night. Hopkins argued that Stole is not reliable.

"But remember, his conclusion was only 'I saw two lights come together.' He did not say he saw that crash," said Hopkins.

Hopkins floated the idea that sailboat owner Mark Weber may have bumped the light switch when he went to the cabin to adjust the radio, or that someone on the sailboat may have turned off the lights on purpose.

"People do go out on the lake at night and turn off their lights, especially if it's a pleasure cruise and they feel like there's nobody else out there," said Hopkins. "It's a warm day, are there gnats, the famous Lake County gnats that are getting in people's wine glasses?"

"What is the Alice in Wonderland chasing white rabbit theory that Mr. Hopkins has about Mark Weber going down into the cabin drunkenly stumbling around, and the light goes off?" said Haltom.

Haltom finished by saying Perdock is a "proven liar" -- that he lied about being at Konocti Resort before the crash because he had been drinking.

"Russell Perdock needs to learn that he doesn't own Clear Lake and that he cannot escape responsibility for taking Lynn Thornton's life," said Haltom. "He's not above the law simply because he has a badge."

Hopkins said there is no evidence Perdock was drinking that night and that his blood test came back clean.

So now, the guessing game begins. When will the jury reach a verdict?

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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