The charge against a Queensbury man whose boat fatally struck a kayaker last June on Lake George has been dismissed by a local justice.
Queensbury Town Justice Robert P. McNally dismissed a navigation law violation charge against Donald P. Peltier of Queensbury, who had been charged in the June 9, 2010 collision between his motorboat and a kayak that led to the drowning death of Peter Snyder of Troy.
Peltier’s attorney, Kurt Mausert of Saratoga Springs, successfully argued that kayaks are specifically excluded from the definition of “sailing vessel” under state Navigation Law, so no violation can be charged if Peltier’s motorized boat did not yield to Snyder’s kayak.
The charge was failing to yield, the navigation law equivalent of a traffic violation.
“The court declines to impose an interpretation on the statute at variance with the plain language of Navigation Law, particularly in view of the express exclusion of kayaks from provisions of the Navigation Law,” McNally wrote in his decision.
Given the total circumstances, the accident couldn’t have been prevented, Mausert said. “The facts of this case are that this was the perfect storm for an accident,” he said Friday.
Peltier, 73, was testing a new engine on a 22-foot motorboat and operating it at a slow speed that caused the bow to ride high. There was choppy water on the lake, and Snyder and his wife were paddling 600 feet to 700 feet from shore near Cleverdale on the lake’s eastern side, where paddling vessels are unusual, Mausert said.
“That’s a part of the lake where you don’t see kayakers,” he said.
Saratoga County District Attorney James A. Murphy III, who was special prosecutor, and Assistant District Attorney Debra Kailen, who handled the case for him, weren’t available for comment late Friday.
Peltier had initially faced a more serious count — reckless operation-speeding — after the fatal accident, but a Warren County grand jury heard testimony and found no evidence of reckless operation or speeding, according to previous statements by Murphy. On Oct. 1, the grand jury brought the lesser charge of a motorized boat failing to yield the right of way to a sailing boat, as the law requires. A County Court judge then assigned the case to McNally’s court.
Snyder, 63, was a retired administrator at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy. Accounts at the time were that Snyder and his wife were paddling on Lake George when the weather turned cloudy and windy and they headed across a bay to return to shore.
Neither was wearing a life jacket, but they had life jackets in their kayaks.
Peltier was taking his new boat for a test ride and operating at the suggested speed of between 5 and 10 miles per hour when he failed to see the kayaks in the water and collided with Snyder, according to Murphy’s earlier account. Snyder suffered injuries and drowned.
After the collision, Peltier saw Snyder’s wife “waiving her paddle and yelling,” and he realized that something was wrong.
“Peltier stopped his boat and jumped into the water in an attempt to locate Mr. Snyder,” Murphy said, adding that Peltier stayed in the water for so long he required treatment at Glens Falls Hospital for hypothermia.
Police divers later located Snyder’s body.
“Anytime someone’s actions end in another’s death, it is a tragic and serious matter,” Murphy said when the grand jury brought the charge. “This case is no different.”
Murphy’s office acted as special prosecutor after Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan recused herself because she knew Peltier.
Mausert said the dismissal of the criminal charge doesn’t preclude a civil settlement being reached between Peltier and Snyder’s estate.