QUEENSBURY — Robert Knarr called the verdict in the trial of Alexander West a victory — but a hollow one.
Knarr was driving his antique Gar Wood toward the shore of his Cramer Point home the night of July 25 when West’s powerboat crashed into it, killing Knarr’s 8-year-old granddaughter, Charlotte McCue. The girl had fallen asleep with her head on the lap of her mother, Courtney McCue, who was severely injured in the crash. The McCue family — including Charlotte’s dad, Eric, and three siblings — was visiting from Carlsbad, California.
After a nearly three-week trial and two days of deliberations, a Warren County jury placed the blame firmly on West, who they found spent the day at Log Bay Day, an annual floating party, before driving his boat under the influence of alcohol that night, recklessly causing the crash and fleeing.
The jury convicted the 25-year-old Lake George resident of second-degree manslaughter and second-degree assault — both felonies and the highest charges in the 12-count indictment — along with criminally negligent homicide, two counts of leaving the scene of an accident, boating while ability impaired by alcohol, reckless operation of a vessel and criminal possession of a controlled substance (cocaine).
An emotional Knarr gave a beaming Kate Hogan, the Warren County district attorney who prosecuted the case, a long hug after Judge John Hall read the verdict Monday afternoon.
“It’s a big win, but I will tell you, every one of us here would trade this victory — and probably our lives — to have Charlotte back,” Knarr told reporters.
Knarr, one of several in his family to testify over the past three weeks, called the trial a “redo of the most horrible night of our lives.”
“Eric [McCue] said it well in his testimony: I live that night every hour, every minute of every day,” he said.
Knarr also took West’s attorney, Cheryl Coleman, to task for “trying to shift the blame from the villain to the victim” during the trial. Coleman had said investigators were too lenient on Knarr, who told police he had two glasses of wine with dinner and was on heart medication before refusing to take a breathalyzer after the crash. She also argued West’s boat had the right of way. She used the expression “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander” to highlight what she called a “half-investigation.”
“The jury had their own waterfowl defense: If it looks like a duck, if it walks like a duck, if it swims like a duck, if it flies like a duck — it’s a duck,” Knarr said “That was their verdict.”
Alexander West is handcuffed following the reading of the verdict Monday afternoon. (Shawn LaChapelle/Pool)
Because the jury returned a strong verdict, Knarr said, “for the very first time probably in his life, Alex West was forced to face his own actions.”
West left the courtroom in handcuffs, his bail revoked by Hall. He faces up to 22 years in prison and is due to be sentenced June 5.
“A little piece of our hearts are broken today,” Coleman later told reporters. “We were prepared, but it’s still very devastating.”
In expressing sympathy for West, she said anyone’s life can turn on a dime at any moment, “and anybody who thinks your life can’t turn on a dime hasn’t lived their life.”
“I wish they had had dessert at The Huddle,” she said, referring to the restaurant from which West departed before heading south in his boat toward Cramer Point that night — witnesses testified to seeing him drink two Moscow mules before he did. “I wish they’d left earlier; I wish they’d left later. I wish that everybody’s lives didn’t intersect the way they did.”
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Coleman said she plans to appeal the decision and seek bail pending the court action. She pointed to the four charges West was acquitted of — vehicular manslaughter, boating while impaired by drugs and two counts of vehicular assault — as problematic because they all required proof of drug impairment.
“The fact that they don’t have the drug involvement immediately makes for a huge issue on appeal in addition to, we think, a whole lot of other issues,” she said.
Hogan dismissed that argument, saying the case had a “very clean record.”
“The blood tests are suppressed, they heard testimony as to the alcohol consumption throughout the day … so those are not inconsistent verdicts,” she said.
Months before the trial began, prosecutors withdrew blood test results showing cocaine and marijuana in West’s system that night as evidence because the test’s search warrant did not meet the technical requirements of criminal procedural law.
“We don’t worry about what we don’t have, we focus in on what we do have — and that’s what we did in this case,” Hogan said.
She called surveillance footage of the crash taken from a neighboring boathouse on Lake George — which showed West’s boat closing in quickly on the lit-up Gar Wood — the “best piece of evidence,” revealing to reporters that the equipment was installed the day before July 25.
“It’s better to be born lucky than smart,” she said.
She also said various 911 calls reporting the crash and played for the jury were “incredibly important” because they showed how obvious it was that someone had been hurt — or worse.
“You had complete strangers who were coming forward, being willing to help, while this defendant was fleeing,” she said. “He was fleeing because he knew that he was impaired.”
Charlotte McCue, 8.
Hogan said that in her nearly 30-year career as a prosecutor, she’s never seen a family have to endure a greater tragedy in a criminal case, “and I’ve never seen a family that has responded with such strength and grace.”
“A child who’s innocently sleeping in her mother’s lap on a gorgeous Lake George on a family boat ride is the picture of innocence,” she said. “The fact that she was ripped from their lives in such a violent and vicious manner and the person who did it just fled, I think it’s the culmination of those factors that made this a very poignant case.”
She said Log Bay Day won’t be happening again — local officials and law enforcement are working to ensure that. The longstanding tradition promotes drinking and drug use on the water, which she pointed to throughout the trial.
“It’s over,” she said. “The family and I are working on some other things that we hope we can implement that will be a positive legacy of Charlotte’s life and help advance good things, not bad things.”