Opening statements were followed by the first witnesses to take the stand as Alexander West’s trial reached its third day at the Warren County Courthouse. The 24-year-old is accused of being drunk and high on drugs when he caused a deadly boat crash on Lake George last summer. Matt Hunter reports.
QUEENSBURY, N.Y. – During the first day of witness testimony in Alex West's trial, jurors heard recordings of several 911 calls made during the moments after the July 25 boat crash that claimed the life of Charlotte McCue and badly injured her mother, Courtney.
Gregory Guerrieri, the trial’s first witness, took the stand after attorneys on both sides concluded their opening statements Wednesday morning. The 53-year-old Pennsylvania man told jurors he was vacationing in Lake George with family last summer when he heard a loud crashing sound followed by a splash not far from the shore near Kramer Point.
Midway through his testimony, a recording of the 911 call Guerrieri made was played for jurors, during which he told dispatchers he could hear loud screams from one of the two boats involved in the collision, before asking for them to send an ambulance.
Guerrieri testified he saw West’s boat head south on the lake shortly after the crash, not long before the McCue’s family’s boat arrived on the shore near his own vacation rental. Immediately recognizing the severity of the young girl’s injuries, he told jurors he did not have it in him to tell family members it wasn’t worth attempting CPR on Charlotte.
West, 24 of Lake George, is accused of being drunk and high on drugs when the boat he was driving collided into the one driven by McCue’s grandfather. He allegedly spent the day partying with friends at Lake George’s annual Log Bay Day celebration.
"He continued to drink throughout the day; snorted cocaine while there," Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan said during her opening statement.
After consuming two more drinks at dinner, Hogan said the boat ride West took home with friends turned deadly.
“His boat turned over and went onto the compartment where Courtney was sitting, crushing Charlotte’s skull, filleting her body and causing almost immediate death,” Hogan said.
Hogan’s office has charged West with 12 counts, including second degree manslaughter. West is also accused of leaving the scene without calling 911.
"He didn't even go to the closest point on shore and take care of his own boat,” Hogan said. “No, he fled and he hid."
"I assure you, ladies and gentlemen, it isn't that black and white," defense attorney Kathryn Conklin told jurors at the beginning of her opening statement.
West's attorneys urged jurors to closely scrutinize the witness testimony during the trial. Conklin suggested the driver of the other boat -- McCue's grandfather, Robert Knarr -- may be partially to blame for the deadly crash.
"Robert Knnar refused to submit to a breathalyze test until after a warrant was obtained,” said Conklin, who’s an associate of West’s lead attorney, Cheryl Coleman. “He says he was fearful because he had wine and medication."
Following testimony from Guerrieri’s son and a Warren County communications officer who answered the Pennsylvania man’s second 911 call, jurors heard testimony from Christine Knarr, the step-grandmother of McCue.
Knarr was on the boat at the time of the collision and says the impact of West’s boat knocked the young girl down “like a rag doll.” She also testified Courtney McCue was completely cut open on one side.
After reaching shore, Knarr said she attempted to perform CPR on Charlotte but quickly realized “she was gone.”
Over the next three weeks, dozens of additional witnesses are expected to testify, likely shaping the fate of West, who faces up to 22 years in state prison if convicted.
“You will find much of this was smoke and mirrors to get you to care and not to think," Conklin told jurors.
"At the end, I am going to ask you to return the only verdict consistent with the proof, and that is guilty," Hogan said.