Wife of reality television celebrity investor, Kevin O’Leary, has been exonerated from operating a vessel in a reckless manner when the boat she was driving at night hit an unlit boat on an Ontario cottage country lake. Two passengers onboard were killed.
Judge Richard Humphrey reasoned that, on the night of the crash, the lights on the large boat that Linda O’Leary struck were turned off specifically so that its passengers could stargaze on the dark water of Lake Joseph.
Judge Humphrey said that video evidence of the boats and of the collision makes it clear that O’Learys’ boat was lit while the other boats were not. Humphrey refuted the evidence of several witnesses on board the boat that was hit while the lights were on.
Given the circumstances, the accident was inevitable as the boat sat motionless in O’Leary’s path. It was a herculean task for the prosecutors to prove there was carelessness on O’Leary’s part that night. The evidence shows that she is an experienced and careful boat operator.
“She knew the waters of Lake Joseph and had travelled the distance between her cottage and the Smith cottage in daylight and at night on numerous occasions,” he said delivering his oral verdict Tuesday morning.
“She took precautions to make sure her boat was properly equipped for night navigation…. The boat was in good working order and it had all requisite navigational lights activated.
“Alcohol played no part,” he said.
The evidence adduced during trial in Parry Sound, Ont., that O’Leary had one glass of wine at lunch and a light cocktail at the dinner part they were attending that night.
There was no conclusive evidence on the speed her boat was travelling at the time, but the Crown alleged she was going at a speed excessive to the circumstances, meaning she was unable to avoid the dark object in the lake.
Evidence from the OPP’s collision reconstruction helped the defense more than the Crown prosecutors, Humphrey said. Court heard earlier that when police tried to recreate the incident, the police boat almost hit the boat as well.
The judge noted “the very unfortunate consequences” of the collision and the “tragic loss of loved ones.”
However, Humphrey said the gravity of the outcome of a crash does not change how the standard of care from a driver is assessed by the court.
Suzanne Brito, 48, from Uxbridge, Ont., and Gary Poltash, 64, of Florida, were passengers on board the boat that was hit. They both died of blunt force trauma.
The other boat, owned by Dr. Irv Edwards, had 12 people aboard and was being driven by Richard Ruh, a family doctor from Buffalo, N.Y., who rents a cottage from Edwards.
The court earlier saw video dockside security cameras from the cottages of both the O’Learys and Edwards.
Video from the Edwards cottage shows the stargazers leaving from his boathouse in a large boat that is well-lit but then the lights suddenly turning off.
Video from the cottage where the O’Learys were having dinner, show her carefully attaching the ski boat’s navigation lights and making sure they are working before departing.
The operators of both vessels were charged by the OPP: O’Leary with careless operation of a vessel and Ruh for not having the boat’s lights on at night. Ruh earlier pleaded guilty, but maintains his lights were on.
Court heard that at least six civil lawsuits sprung from the collision. Those proceedings were put on pause until after O’Leary’s trial.
“It is not within this court’s authority to quantify or apportion liability so as to make recompense for loss of property or the tragic loss of loved ones. That function is relegated to another court at a future time and will be adjudicated by a different standard,” Humphrey said.
Humphrey’s oral decision was centered on the accepted legal standard of the charge and the jurisprudence of the law. The reason for his decision was summarized in more than 100 pages.
Kevin O’Leary was the only witness that was called to testify in defense.
He said the boat his wife hit was “invisible” at the time because it had no lights on a dark, still night.
“In this case, we believe that there was credible, reliable evidence upon which a court could have found that the accused was guilty of careless operation pursuant to the Canada Shipping Act,” she said.
“The public has an interest in ensuring that individuals meet the expectations of safe operation placed upon them by the law. It is for these very important reasons that we brought the matter before the court to be decided, and we continue to believe that this trial deserved to be decided by a judge on its merits.”