QUEENSBURY, N.Y. – Thursday marked the second day of witnesses taking the stand in Alexander West's trial, and it was defined by the testimony of one of the passengers on West's boat the day it collided with another vessel on Lake George. That crash claimed the life of 8-year-old Charlotte McCue of California and severely injured her mother.
Cara Mia Canale was on the stand for more than five hours, testifying that she spent July 25 of last year partying with friends, including West, who faces 12 counts tied to the deadly crash. Canale was one of the four passengers on West's boat who was charged with trying to obstruct the police investigation.
Canale told jurors West had been drinking all afternoon, as well as smoking hash shortly after arriving at the annual party on Lake George known as “Log Bay Day.” Canale claimed she snorted cocaine with West twice, including right before the group left on West’s boat to go to dinner.
As for the crash itself, Canale said she did not see the McCue family's boat, but noted West's boat “hit something extremely hard.”
"I thought it was something sticking out of the water. I remember we kind of went airborne," Canale said.
After saying she heard screams from the other boat, Canale testified "there would be no way any of us would've known there was a fatality, but I knew what had happened was not good."
In a comment that could help the defense team’s claim that the driver of the other boat shared blame with West, Canale testified that in the moments after the crash, West said: "But I had the right of way" before punching the steering wheel. Canale also testified that West did not seem any more intoxicated at the end of the day than he did when they met up that morning.
Cross examination was marked by defense attorney Cheryl Coleman attempting to damage Canale's credibility and poke holes in her testimony. A heroin addict, Canale acknowledged she had been clean for the 18 months prior to the boat crash but relapsed almost immediately after. She also lost her job in the days to follow.
Canale admitted to lying to Warren County sheriff's deputies when they came to question her about the crash a day later. The Glens Falls native said she did that because she was afraid and did not know what charges she might face.
Coleman attempted to convince jurors that if Canale lied to authorities once to protect herself once, she was more than capable of lying again, including during Thursday's testimony.
Hoping to drive that point home, Coleman brought up the fact that several weeks after the crash, Canale was arrested for driving under the influence of heroin, as well as possessing a hypodermic needle and other drugs she did not have a prescription for. When questioned by Coleman, Canale confirmed she later reached a plea agreement with the Warren County District Attorney's office. In exchange for testifying against West, Canale would avoid jail time and be granted probation for the drug crimes.
After court proceedings wrapped up for the day, Coleman told reporters Canale was “the witness the prosecution bought and paid for, and it backfired.”
In another moment that could prove doubt about her testimony, cross examination also revealed that Canale spent the night prior to the crash awake "tripping on acid," and that she was tired from a lack of sleep. Throughout her testimony, the woman often appeared agitated and uncomfortable. She repeatedly said she either did not understand questions askedy by attorneys or requested they be repeated.
Thirty minutes after doing so, Canale denied that she listed the drugs she was arrested for possessing, which prompted Coleman to ask: "If you can't remember something that happened a half-hour ago, how can we expect you to remember something from July?"
Canale also admitted that within the past week she has used marijuana and suboxone -- an opiate commonly prescribed to addicts in recovery -- but denied she was under the influence of drugs during her testimony on Thursday. Coleman did ask her if she was willing to submit to a drug test right away, but that request was denied.
While she would not say for certain, Coleman later told reporters she thought Canale looked like she was under the influence of drugs or alcohol during her time on the stand.
Three more witnesses who were vacationing in Lake George last July took the stand after Canale. Each said they heard the crash, followed by loud screams.
Witness testimony resumes at 9:30 a.m. Friday.