Passenger can't recall which lights were on when boat struck by O'Leary's boat
Published Wednesday, June 16, 2021 2:26PM EDT
TORONTO -- A woman who was on a boat during a fatal collision on an Ontario lake acknowledged Wednesday that she couldn't clearly recall how many of the boat's lights were on when it was struck by the other vessel, and that some may have been turned off at some point that night.
Susan Auricchio testified by video conference at the trial of Linda O'Leary, who is charged under the Canada Shipping Act in connection with the incident.
Auricchio initially told the court that the boat she was aboard the night of Aug. 24, 2019 had all of its lights on, including at the time of the collision.
She and a group of friends and acquaintances had gone out on Lake Joseph, north of Toronto, to stargaze after a dinner party hosted by Irv Edwards, court has heard. Edwards was keen to take people out on his new boat, though he handed over the controls to a friend early in the outing, she said.
When they stopped on the lake, the boat's navigational lights and its dashboard were on, Auricchio said, noting it did not interfere with the group's ability to see the stars. "To my recollection, the lights were never off," she said.
Under cross-examination, however, she acknowledged telling prosecutors this past April that she couldn't say "for sure" which lights were on aside from the dashboard.
Court heard she told the Crown at that time that while the lights were on when the group set out, she couldn't say if that was still the case "at the time of the actual accident" because she was focused on her safety.
"I thought I was going to die so I wasn't really paying attention to the lights," she said in the statement, which was read in court.
Auricchio, an insurance worker living in New York State, also viewed security footage of the lake from that night and agreed with the defence that it appeared to show the boat's lights being turned off at one point.
"I take it (that) what this demonstrates is that your recollection is incorrect," defence lawyer Brian Greenspan told her.
"At that point, yes," she replied.
Another passenger, Cathryn Hibbard, was also pressed on the boat's lighting during her testimony Wednesday.
Hibbard said the boat was "lit up" but she couldn't say which lights were on, specifically.
She did note under cross-examination that the light atop the boat was on, adding it had interfered with their stargazing.
The status of the boat's lights is a central point in the case, with the defence suggesting the boat was not visible at the time of the collision because its lights were off.
Two people were killed in the crash. Gary Poltash, 64, from Florida, died that night after the damaged boat returned to shore. Suzana Brito, 48, from Uxbridge, Ont. died in hospital days later.
Three people were also injured.
One of the people injured, Murray Wohlmuth, is Edwards's cousin and was dating Brito at the time, court heard.
Both women who testified Wednesday said Wohlmuth was dazed after being knocked to the ground from the impact of the crash.
Auricchio, who was sitting near where Wohlmuth collapsed, said he had blood coming out of one ear and didn't know where he was or what had just happened.
"He was hanging on to consciousness," she said.
Hibbard said Wohlmoth didn't recognize his own girlfriend due to his injury.
Court heard the O'Leary boat went on top of the Edwards boat during the crash.
"Their boat was on top of our boat and then it slid back down into the water," Hibbard testified.
O'Leary, the wife of celebrity businessman Kevin O'Leary, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of careless operation of a vessel under the Canada Shipping Act, which federal prosecutors have said could carry a fine of up to $10,000 if she is convicted.
An agreed statement of facts said she was operating the boat when the collision took place. Her husband was also aboard.
Kevin O'Leary, the former star of the popular CBC show "Dragons' Den," also stars in the ABC show "Shark Tank." He briefly sought the leadership of the federal Conservatives in 2017.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 16, 2021.