Eric McCue had spent the first day of his vacation fishing and swimming with his three children on Lake George.
After dinner, the sunset caught his eye. He stopped and took a picture from the top of his in-laws’ boathouse on Cramer Point before joining his family for an evening ride on the lake.
“It was a beautiful night, very calm,” he told a Warren County jury Monday. “The only boat we saw on the water that whole night was the one that ran us over.”
West, 25, of Lake George is being tried on charges that he was drunk and high when he crashed his powerboat into the antique motorboat the McCue family was riding in on July 25 after a day of partying at Log Bay Day. Eric McCue, of Carlsbad, California, was the day’s first new witness.
McCue said in court that he was sitting in the back of the boat, on the left side, with his arm around his then 4-year-old son, Cooper, as they made their return approach that night. Charlotte was asleep with her head on Courtney’s lap in front of them. His father-in-law, Robert Knarr, was driving the antique Gar Wood motorboat.
“We were looking up at the stars,” he told District Attorney Kate Hogan. “I was noticing how close to home we were, just enjoying time with my son. There was no advanced warning.”
The first thing he saw was the bow of a boat out of the right corner of his eye, he said. It was right above him, he told the jury, indicating with his hand to show about a foot in height.
“I noticed it was white, and then I watched it kind of traverse the rest of our boat and ultimately cross it up by where Charlotte and Courtney were sitting,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘I can’t believe that just happened and nobody got hurt.’”
Hogan inquired, “And then what did you see or hear?”
“I heard Courtney say, ‘We’re hurt,’” he said.
“Next thing I knew, I was in that section of the boat with them,” McCue continued, holding back tears and taking a deep breath.
“The first thing I saw was Charlotte’s arm hanging off the side of the bench, and I started yelling, ‘No, no, no, no, no.’”
He took his daughter into his arms before realizing there was nothing he could do to save her, he said. He could see cuts on the back of Courtney, who was on the floor of the boat.
“I kept telling her, ‘It’s OK. You’re going to be OK.’”
Hogan asked, “Did you think Charlotte was going to be OK.”
“I did not,” McCue said.
Amid the chaos, Knarr was able to drive the boat to shore and into the boathouse.
“Everything got lit up, and I just didn’t want anyone else to see her that way, so I covered her with a blanket and said ‘nobody look under there,’” McCue said.
McCue’s testimony about how he saw the boat approach — from over his right shoulder — was consistent with testimony from Eric Weinreber, a retired state police marine patrolman who led the accident reconstruction. He testified Friday and Monday morning and said damage to both boats and surveillance footage of the crash from the shore indicate that West’s boat overtook the Gar Wood from behind — rather than at a crossing, as the defense continues to argue, which would give West’s boat the right of way.
Coleman, in cross-examining McCue, asked if he recalled telling police on July 27 that he saw West’s boat “charging up the right side near Courtney and Charlotte.”
“What I just told you today is what I recall,” he said flatly. “I’ve had the unfortunate opportunity to relive that moment every minute, every hour, every day for the past nine months.”
Coleman then said the statement he gave police did not include him seeing the boat pass over his right shoulder. She asked him if what happened on the night of the crash and in the days after were a blur.
“Less and less so,” he said.
Coleman pressed: “Would you agree with me that over time, it’s hard to know what actually happened and what your mind reconstructs?”
McCue was the last witness called by Hogan after nearly two weeks of testimony; the prosecution’s case was closed before the court broke for lunch.
West’s attorney, Cheryl Coleman, then motioned for all charges against West, including second-degree manslaughter and second-degree assault, to be dropped, saying Hogan did not prove West’s guilt — including any intended recklessness. He faces up to 22 years in prison if convicted.
Hogan said the jury has “more than enough evidence to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt on all the counts.” Judge John Hall denied Coleman’s motion.
Coleman’s first witness was Dawn O’Keefe, the owner of The Huddle in Bolton Landing — the restaurant where West went with a group before crashing his motorboat that night. Witnesses have testified to seeing him drink two Moscow mules at the restaurant.
O’Keefe said she did not notice any signs of impairment with West, though she admitted to not talking to him directly.
“I did not notice it myself at all,” she said. “I was very busy.”
The next witness was Stanley Los Jr., a former physicist who worked as a special agent with the FBI from 1967 to 1992. He bought his first sailboat in 1973 and started driving boats for the FBI in the late 1980s, he told the jury.
“I operated vessels for the bureau in an undercover capacity throughout southern California, Florida and down into South America,” said Los, who lives in Virginia and has testified in three previous trials as a boating expert.
Kathryn Conklin, another attorney for West, referred to Los as “captain” throughout his testimony; he served in the Coast Guard and has his captain's license.
Hogan, during cross-examination, questioned Los' credentials, bringing up the fact that he isn't trained in marine accident reconstruction.
Los drafted his own report on the accident using photos of the boats, the video and by inspecting the boats firsthand, the last of which he did on Sunday. He argued that the crash was a crossing and that West had the right of way.
“If the impact occurred at the stern, which in my opinion, it did not, the damage that you have displayed up there would have been much worse,” he said, referring to a photo of the damaged Gar Wood shown in court.
He also said Eric McCue and his son, Cooper, who were not injured in the crash, would have been “gravely injured” had West’s boat collided with the back-right section of the Gar Wood as indicated in Weinreber’s accident reconstruction report.
He said the Gar Wood sits low on the water and is made of dark mahogany wood, so it would be somewhat difficult to see under low lighting conditions.
Hogan then took him to task. She argued that the Gar Wood’s three lights can be seen clearly in the video. “That Gar Wood is not stealth — it’s not hidden. It’s not unlit.”
She also drew upon marine law, pointing to a rule that boat operators must avoid a collision by altering direction or slowing down when another boat is visible. In this case, West’s boat was moving much faster than the Gar Wood, she said.
“When you saw the Larson going at that higher rate of speed, the Larson should have slowed down or altered course, isn’t that correct?” she asked.
“Yes,” he replied.
Hogan then asked if West should have done more to avoid the crash; Los said he could have.
Hogan continued, “The Larson hit the Gar Wood … the Gar Wood didn’t hit the Larson, correct?”
“That is correct,” Los replied.
“No further questions,” Hogan said.
Coleman told reporters that the argument that West’s boat hit the Gar Wood is “over-simplistic.”
“As anybody knows in any type of accident, the issue is not who hits who — there’s way more to it than that,” she said.
The trial is off Tuesday and will resume Wednesday with more testimony from the defense’s side.