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'I heard a loud BANG, BANG, BANG'

'I heard a loud BANG, BANG, BANG'

Grandfather testifies in fatal boat crash
'I heard a loud BANG, BANG, BANG'
Alexander West listens to opening statements during his trial in Warren County Court.

Alexander West claimed to have been ill on the afternoon of Log Bay Day in an interview with police — enough to stop drinking but apparently not enough to go home.

West did not testify in court Thursday, but a video of his police interview was played for the jury.

After drinking two Coronas at the party in the bay, he stopped consuming alcohol at 1 p.m., he said in the interview conducted the day after his powerboat collided with an antique wooden motorboat shortly after 9:20 p.m. on July 25, killing 8-year-old Charlotte McCue.  

“We had a ton of water,” he said. “That’s what I was drinking the rest of the day — I was really sick.”

He told Warren County sheriff’s investigators there was no alcohol in his system when he drove the boat that night. “I’m 100 percent sure on that.”

He also said he wasn’t smoking marijuana that day, while admitting he does smoke “occasionally.” 

His statements directly conflict with testimony from people who partied with West at Log Pay Day. The witnesses told the jury over the last week they saw West drink in the afternoon, do lines of cocaine and dabs of concentrated marijuana and, in some cases, were offered cocaine and marijuana by West. Multiple witnesses have said they saw him drinking two Moscow mules --  a drink made with vadka -- at dinner. In the video West tells police he only had potstickers at the restaurant. 

What West said to police also conflicts with blood test results showing marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy in his system after the crash, but those results have been suppressed as evidence because the search warrant directing sheriff’s deputies to sample West’s blood did not meet the technical requirements of criminal procedure law.

On Wednesday, West’s attorneys and District Attorney Kate Hogan agreed to a stipulation that West unlawfully and knowingly possessed cocaine — which was found on his boat after the crash.

“It has nothing to do with usage,” said Cheryl Coleman, his attorney. 

West has been indicted on a series of charges that include manslaughter and second-degree assault, the latter charge related to injuries suffered by Charlotte’s mother, Courtney McCue, in the crash. He could spend up to 22 years in prison if convicted.

In the video, West, wearing yellow shorts and a T-shirt, also gives his version of the events leading up to the crash and what he did afterward.

“I’m OK — just shook up,” he tells Investigator John Maday with the Warren County Sheriff’s Department, who testified Thursday, as he slumps in a chair. “Really scared.” 

Then Maday reads him his Miranda rights.

Recap from Thursday's testimony

Previously, the jury had only heard from people who were riding in the 1928 Gar Wood that Charlotte was riding in. Robert Knarr, her grandfather and the boat’s driver, gave emotional testimony Thursday morning; his wife, Christine, and daughter, Courtney McCue, testified last week. 

“The boat came out of nowhere — we didn’t even see it until we already hit it,” West says in the video. “I didn’t see any lights. My lights are definitely on — 100 percent. After the accident, they turned off.”

West says he was “chugging along” at 20 or 25 mph.

“We were just cruising nice and slowly, we always do,” he says. “I don’t think they had any lights on.”

 “Their perception is the same as you,” Maday replies. “I’m not sitting here calling you a liar or anything …”

“I’m being honest — that’s nothing to lie about,” West says.

West also says he was driving south and the other boat was heading west. He suggests he had the right-of-way. Surveillance footage of the crash, though dark and somewhat blurry, appears to show West’s boat overtake Knarr’s boat from behind, but both sides continue to dispute the point of impact. 

“When you’re going north to south, you’re technically the right-of-way boat, and people are supposed to go behind you,” says West. “I didn’t see him — he didn’t see me, either.”

After the crash, West’s boat stopped and the other boat kept going in the direction of the shore, he tells police.

“They weren’t yelling to us or anything, but we were yelling to them, ‘Are you guys OK? Do you need help? Are you OK?' They took off toward shore so we thought maybe they were trying to avoid us.”

After the crash, he panicked, he tells police in explaining why no one on the boat called 911. Maday asks him why. “At this point, you don’t even know what you're panicking about. You don’t know if anyone was hurt or not hurt.”

West responds, “Just in general. Having an accident. My boat was all messed up. Just shooken up — I’d never experienced that.”’

An analysis of two cellphones of passengers on West’s boat revealed that West deleted text messages he had sent in preparation Log Bay Day, on July 24, according to testimony given Thursday by John Deyette, a state police investigator.

The deleted texts include one sent from West’s phone at 10:41 p.m. that night to Christine Tiger’s phone saying, “I got a 36 of Bud Light. Do we need more beer than that? … Should we do ice on the way?”

“Let’s do ice on the way,” Tiger responds.

Matt Marry’s phone was also used to call West’s mother, Cassie West, at 3:39 and 3:44 a.m. on July 26, Deyette said. The first call lasted about two minutes and the second almost six minutes. Police arrived at Marry’s home in Kingsbury at around 4:30 a.m. 

In the video shown in court Thursday, West admits to not making good choices that night. He says he “should have just reached out to you guys right away,” but he was scared. He says throughout the interview that he feared his dad would “murder” him if he found out.

Maday tells him “it’s not the end of the world. It’s a lot to think about. I can’t imagine being in your shoes."

He then asks West if he knew what happened as a result of the crash. West puts his head down and appears to cry. 

“My mom told me,” he says. “It’s really sad. I just wish I could have saw them, you know?”

Before the video was shown, Robert Knarr gave his version of what happened out on the lake. He said he was used to seeing a lot of boats moving through the portion of Lake George that surrounds his Cramer Point boathouse, but that night was different.

“It’s a very active area, that part of the lake,” said Knarr, who works as CEO of a medical device company and has owned the Gar Wood since 2000, the same year bought the lakeside home at 41 Cramer Point. “So we check, and we’re very careful in making that crossing [when boating out to the open lake and returning to shore].”

On the night of July 25, as the 68-year-old drove his antique wooden motorboat toward the shore with his wife, children and grandchildren in tow, the water was “reasonably calm” with little boat traffic, he said. “The day was kind of overcast, so it was a nice night for a cruise.”

Then Knarr, speaking to the jury, took a deep breath.

“Out of nowhere, we got hit by a boat,” he said.

District Attorney Kate Hogan asked him to elaborate. He closed his eyes for five seconds before he started to shake; he continued without opening his eyes.

“We were home, basically, and we were driving comfortably, and then I heard a loud BANG, BANG, BANG,” he said, still shaking, his hands gesturing in front of his face. “It caused me to lurch forward and to the right — oh my God, why do I have to do this?”

He then recalled seeing his granddaughter, Madison, and wife, Christine, on the floor of the boat next to him. He turned around and his daughter, Courtney, was crying, “Oh my, oh my, oh my God,” he told the jury. “She was staring — just like staring ahead.”

He looked down at the seat and saw his granddaughter, Charlotte, who had been sleeping with her head on her mother Courtney’s lap. She wasn't moving. 

In naming his grandchildren to the jury Thursday, Knarr described Charlotte as his “deceased granddaughter.”  

A distraught Knarr insisted on continuing with his testimony Thursday, even when Hogan suggested a break.

“Let me get through this — I don’t want to have to come back. Let me get through this, please.”

He remembers hearing screams on the boat that night, and his wife telling him he had to get the boat to the boathouse where Charlotte and Courtney could receive medical attention. He drove the boat to shore.

“I jumped out of the boat — I called, from the landline, 911,” he said. “Christine had already called them, but I just knew it was not good for Charlotte.”

Knarr can be heard speaking frantically to a dispatcher in a recording of the call, which was played Thursday in court.

“Please get an ambulance here immediately,” he said. “We have one we believe is dead and one that is seriously injured.”

The dispatcher asks him what happened.

“She was hit by a freaking boat,” he says. “It went right up the side of my boat. Let’s just get somebody here.”

Later that night, at Glens Falls Hospital where his daughter was being treated, Knarr recalled refusing to take a breathalyzer — admitting to the jury that he had “one or two” glasses of wine while preparing food and eating dinner with his family. He started cooking at 6 p.m. and did not drink after 8 p.m., he said. He had also taken medication that day, which was prescribed to him following heart surgery he had on June 7 — a beta blocker, a blood thinner and a baby aspirin, he told the jury. 

“I was really, really angry that they were bugging me about this while they couldn’t find the freaking people who ran over my boat and killed my granddaughter,” he said in court. “I said, 'Find them!'”

Maday, who requested the breath test, said he told Knarr it was a matter of procedure following any fatal boat accident. Knarr learned Courtney McCue was going to be transferred to Albany Medical Center and was torn about whether to go with her or be with the rest of his family on the lake, Maday recalled.

When Knarr refused, Maday sought a search warrant to do a blood test, making Knarr wait. Knarr then wanted to take the breathalyzer “just so that he could get out of there,” Maday said, but he had already told police that his attorney advised him against it. 

Knarr admitted to Coleman that he didn’t call his attorney before speaking with police that night.

“He had already invoked his right to counsel — and I informed him that we had to continue with the search warrant,” Maday said.

Coleman was persistent in cross-examining Knarr. Previously she had left the questioning of Charlotte’s family members to her associate, Kathryn Conklin. After a series of questions on his reasons for refusing to take the breathalyzer, an exasperated Knarr pushed back.

“Do you have any idea what I was going through at the time?” he asked.

“Believe it or not, I’m one of the only people in this room that does,” Coleman responded. “1997, sir.”

She was referring to June 23, 1997, when her 6-year-old daughter’s heart stopped while she was prosecuting a murder case as Albany County assistant district attorney. 

The trial will continue Friday with the rest of West’s interview with police. The jury saw about two-thirds of the video before Judge John Hall brought the day’s testimony to a close at 4:45 p.m.

Charlotte McCue’s father, Eric McCue, is also expected to testify.

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