National Post (National Edition)
OPP specialist warned fatal O'Leary crash was `high-profile incident'
Lack of lighting on boat that was hit cited
The Ontario Provincial Police's collision reconstruction specialist examining the aftermath of the fatal boat crash, in which Linda O'Leary's speedboat ran into a boatload of cottagers stargazing on a dark cottage country lake, determined the cause was a lack of lighting on the boat that was hit.
“The collision occurred due to the Nautique vessel failing to display proper navigational lights in the dark while on a waterway known as Lake Joseph,” is the conclusion of the collision reconstruction report of Const. Mark Phillips, court heard Monday at the trial for Linda O'Leary, wife of reality television star Kevin O'Leary.
Phillips outlined the significant damage on a Super Air Nautique G23, a 16-seat boat where two people were killed after being hit at night on Lake Joseph on Aug. 24, 2019, as well as to a Cobalt 202cs, a boat designed to pull water-skiers, driven by Linda O'Leary.
When Phillips was called to the crash scene in the middle of the night, he was told the crash was “a high-profile incident,” he testified.
O'Leary was driving the speedboat home from a neighbouring cottage in the exclusive enclave of large expensive summer homes after a dinner party, with her husband and a family friend on board, when it ran into the much larger boat in the dark waters.
Video of the crash, captured in the distance by a dockside security camera, shows the light of the O'Leary boat suddenly stopping and bouncing back in the water. The larger boat's lights only become visible 49 seconds after the crash.
The operators of both vessels were charged by the OPP. Richard Ruh, who was at the wheel of the Nautique, for not having the boat's lights on at night, and O'Leary with careless operation of a vessel. Ruh earlier pleaded guilty but maintains his lights were on.
O'Leary is fighting her charge at a lengthy trial in Parry Sound, Ont.
Phillips' reconstruction investigation found that the front of O'Leary's Cobalt collided at a slight angle to the front of the Nautique and rode up on top of it.
The metal bow eye at the bow of O'Leary's boat — typically the strongest part of a boat because it is used to tie up the craft and to lift it in and out of the water — cut through the fibreglass of the Nautique, exiting in the larger boat's front seating area.
That is where Susanne Brito, 48, from Uxbridge, Ont., and Gary Poltash, 64, of Florida, were reclining, looking at the stars, court heard earlier.
They both died of blunt force trauma.
While the Cobalt's hull was on top of the Nautique, both boats turned from the force of the impact, with the Cobalt spinning clockwise and the Nautique, depressed into the water from the weight of the boat on top, spinning counter clockwise, he said.
Phillips participated in a re-enactment that the OPP did, on the same lake at about the same time of night. He said the lit OPP boat he was on, travelling at about 20 miles per hour, passed the unlit Nautique without even knowing it.
“They could see us, but we couldn't see them,” he said.
When the boat went more slowly, however, around five miles per hour, he saw the boat before they drew too close.
Phillips said he was making his conclusions on cause based on the physical evidence he found: the damage to the vessels, the security video of the crash and the re-enactment.
He did not consider the actions of the driver of the Cobalt or the possible role of alcohol.
(Court earlier heard that during a breath test two hours after the crash, O'Leary registered a warning level for alcohol content, requiring an immediate threeday licence suspension.)
Greg Filzmaier, an OPP marine technician, testified Monday that O'Leary's Cobalt is one of “the better built boats in the industry.”
“They're a good quality boat. Very good quality. If you were to liken them to something in the automotive
THE COLLISION OCCURRED DUE TO THE NAUTIQUE VESSEL FAILING TO DISPLAY PROPER NAVIGATIONAL LIGHTS.
industry, it would be comparable to a Mercedes,” he said.
O'Leary's boat was built in 1999, had a 300-horsepower inboard motor and was in good working order.
The Nautique is also a “top quality boat,” he said, and it too was found fit for operation with nothing wrong with its lighting systems.
After the crash, he found obvious damage to both boats, and described where parts of one had been in contact with the other.
He said he could not determine the speed of the boats at the time, nor the amount of force that would be required to cause the damage.
He said he did not find a GPS unit on O'Leary's boat, although there was a mount for one and plugs for it on board. He never found or had access to a GPS from the boat, he said.
At one point during the testimony, Brian Greenspan, O'Leary's lead lawyer, complained of prosecutors asking a police witness questions beyond what he felt was appropriate and were sprung on him without warning.
“It's late-breaking news in desperation to find something to hang their hat on,” Greenspan lamented. Thompson disagreed.
The trial continues.