QUEENSBURY — Charlotte McCue was asleep, her head resting on her mother’s lap, as they approached the Lake George shore in an antique wooden motorboat.
The family was out on the water with 8-year-old Charlotte’s grandparents and two siblings, enjoying a nighttime ride after dinner at a camp on Cramer Point. Then something hit their boat, Charlotte’s mother, Courtney McCue, recalled Monday in Warren County Court.
“I remember looking up and seeing a boat flying through the air and seeing the bottom of a boat,” she said.
The next thing she remembered was screaming, “Oh my God, oh my God,” she told the jury during the second week of the trial of Alexander West, the 25-year-old accused of driving his boat intoxicated on July 25 and causing the collision that resulted in Charlotte’s death. “I remember I fell to my knees.”
McCue provided the testimony on a day when the jury also saw video surveillance of the crash taken between 9:22 and 9:24 p.m. from a neighboring boathouse. While the footage is dark, lights from a boat can be seen moving right across the screen, toward the Cramer Point boathouse, while faster-moving lights from another boat approach from the left.
The second boat appears to overtake the first from behind, causing a flicker of lights on the screen. West’s attorney, Cheryl Coleman, argued after court that it looked to her like her client's boat hit the McCue family’s boat “in the middle.”
She has said that cause, and who had the right of way, will be part of the defense's case.
Erin Manns, an investigator with the state police forensic unit, described pictures of West’s boat in court, pointing to a propeller with a blade missing and a bent skeg — part of the boat’s hull. Pictures shown of the McCues' boat, a 28-foot Gar Wood built in 1928, showed splintering wood and significant damage to the back-right side.
Following the crash, Charlotte’s grandfather docked the boat in the family’s boathouse, which offered more light than the lake, an emotional Courtney McCue told the jury.
“I looked to my left and Charlotte was…” she said, pausing to catch her breath. “She wasn’t responding. She was really hurt.”
District Attorney Kate Hogan then told McCue she was sorry to “ask you these questions.” McCue composed herself and said flatly, “Me too.”
McCue recounted following a 911 dispatcher’s instructions and unclipping her daughter’s life jacket. The girl’s grandmother started to do chest compressions, and Courtney tried to perform mouth-to-mouth before realizing it was too late, she said.
Under the light of the boathouse, Courtney could see her own injuries, which she described to the jurors.
“My clothes were ripped and the side of my body was ripped open in these big, disgusting gashes, and my skin was frayed everywhere,” she said.
In a picture shown in court, McCue is seen in a hospital bed at Albany Medical Center, her left thigh bruised. West looked down when the pictures of McCue’s injuries were shown.
“That’s where my daughter’s head was when it was crushed,” she said. “I still have an indent there and a bruise — a 9-month-old bruise.”
She said the injuries, which also included a fractured spine, had immediate and lasting effects.
“I couldn’t drive a car or lift my 4-year-old son,” she said. “I wasn’t able to lift or hold him for a long time. It’s affected me because I can’t play with my kids the same way I used to be able to play with them.”
At the beginning of McCue’s testimony, Hogan asked her about her family; she said she lived in Carlsbad, California, with her husband, Eric; her daughter, Madison; and her son, Cooper.
“Did you have a daughter, Charlotte McCue?” Hogan asked.
McCue put her head down and sobbed before saying yes.
Coleman responded to Courtney McCue’s testimony by saying the members of the jury swore to decide the case based on facts and not emotions. They were selected from a pool of nearly 200.
“They seem very attentive and they don’t seem overly emotional,” she said.
The McCues were visiting Charlotte’s grandparents on the night of the crash. Courtney McCue had been there with the kids for several weeks, and July 25 was her husband’s first day visiting with them.
“We spent the morning down at the dock fishing and swimming,” she said.
Alexander West leaves Warren County Court on Monday during a lunch break at his trial. (NED CAMPBELL)
As the family enjoyed the water, West partied with friends at Log Bay Day — friends like Matthew Peterson, who testified Monday. He said he had known West since high school but that they “weren’t really close.”
“I saw him with a Corona when I did see him — it was here or there throughout the day,” he said.
When they went to a Lake George restaurant with a group that night before the fatal crash, Peterson said, he ordered two Moscow mules and saw West do the same. The statement conflicted with his previous testimony to a grand jury that he saw West drink one Moscow mule, Coleman said.
“There is a receipt that doesn't full answer the questions because there were different people on different receipts,” Coleman told reporters after the day’s testimonies.
She also pointed out that Peterson could not say what anyone else ordered to drink or what West had to eat.
Another former classmate of West’s, Kyle Schoonover, testified Monday about driving the group of boaters home when West and Matthew Marry came knocking on his Lake George door late that night after leaving the scene of the crash.
“Matt said I owed him a favor from a long time ago and said give us a ride,” he said, adding that he didn’t believe West when he said they had run out of gas.
Schoonover agreed to drive them to Marry’s place in Kingsbury. He said he thought he was doing the right thing by “not letting a close friend of mine drink and drive.”
During the about 40-minute drive, he said, West didn’t say a word, which he found “very peculiar.”
“They were acting off,” he added.
West faces a 12-count indictment that includes manslaughter and second-degree assault, the latter charge Courtney McCue's injuries. A conviction on those two charges could result in up to 22 years in prison.
Testimony in the prosecution’s case against West is expected to continue through Thursday, with the defense introducing witnesses Friday and the trial lasting through next week.
The latest from inside the courtroom