On Thursday during Alexander West’s trial in Warren County, jurors heard from the drivers of both boats involved in last summer's deadly crash on Lake George. Matt Hunter has more on the day’s testimony.
QUEENSBURY, N.Y. – One sat on the witness stand, the other was shown on a months-old police interrogation video. On Thursday, jurors heard accounts from the drivers of both boats involved in a Lake George boat crash that claimed a young girl’s life last July.
Facing 12 charges, Alexander West is accused of fleeing the scene after causing the fatal crash while drunk and high on drugs.
In arguably the most emotional testimony since the trial began last week, jurors watched as Robert Knarr grew more and more shaken and upset as he described the night that left his daughter severely injured and his granddaughter dead.
Knarr, a 68-year-old CEO of a medical device manufacturer, said he and his wife were taking his daughter Courtney’s family home from a short cruise in his 1928 Garwood boat on Lake George the night of July 25 when their lives were forever altered.
"We were home, basically, and we were driving comfortably and then I heard a loud 'bang, bang, bang,' " Knarr testified about the moment his boat collided with the one driven by the defendant, Alexander West.
Growing more emotional and failing to fight back tears, at one moment Knarr said to himself, "Oh my god, why do I have to do this?"
Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan, who was conducting her direct examination of Knarr at the time, offered to allow him to take a break, but he declined.
While she watched from the gallery, that was also the point when Knarr’s daughter, Courtney McCue, started to cry loudly. McCue suffered a fractured spine in the crash and testified on Monday.
In the moments after the crash, Knarr says he looked behind him and saw his eight-year-old granddaughter, Charlotte, was "just blue."
An issue West's defense team has repeatedly raised throughout the trial is Knarr's level of intoxication during the crash.
Knarr acknowledged Thursday he initially refused officers’ request to take a chemical blood alcohol test at Glens Falls Hospital on the night of the crash, testifying, "I was angry they were bugging me about this [test] while they couldn't find the people who ran over my boat and killed my granddaughter."
Knarr admitted he had two glasses of wine at dinner and was on medication after having open-heart surgery in late June. During cross examination, defense attorney Cheryl Coleman asked Knarr about initially refusing the test.
"You did that mindful of the fact that you had knowledge of the fact that alcohol metabolizes, right?” Coleman asked.
"Do you have any idea what I was going through?" a shaken Knarr replied.
Speaking from a podium roughly 20 feet away from Knarr, Coleman responded, "Believe it or not, Mr. Knarr, I'm one of the only people in this courtroom who does. 1997, sir."
While she did not address it further, Coleman was referencing suddenly losing her six-year-old daughter to a heart issue 20 years ago. A short time later, she told Judge John Hall “I’m going to need a minute,” before the trial was put on a short break.
Talking to reporters later, Coleman blamed authorities for their handling of Knarr’s blood test, saying that the 68-year-old was given the benefit of the doubt but her client was treated unfairly.
"I know that you are seeing little by little that this investigation was botched and this investigation was one-sided and incomplete,” Coleman said. “Because of that, there are so many things that people need to know that they are not going to now."
The remainder of the day provided less emotion, but provided the first glimpse into West’s own account of the night.
The last of three witnesses of the day was John Maday, one of the two Warren County sheriff's investigators who interviewed West at the sheriff's office the morning after the crash. A little more than half of his 47-minute long police interrogation video was played for the jury.
At the start West said he was "OK, but a little shaken up" about the crash. He told police he only drank two Coronas all day and stopped drinking around noon because of an upset stomach. He also denied smoking marijuana or taking other drugs.
"I was completely sober. There was no alcohol in my system; I'm 100 percent sure of that," said West, who was seen wearing yellow shorts and a grey T-shirt in the footage.
Other witnesses have testified they saw West used marijuana and cocaine throughout the Log Bay Day party, as well as drinking more at dinner.
"It happened so fast; the boat came out of nowhere,” West said of the crash itself. “We didn't see it until we hit it."
West said he and his four passengers began yelling to those on the other boat, but got no response before that boat drove away. West said he did not believe anyone was injured because the other boat took off.
"We were all really upset," West said after. "I was crying, I was so upset. It was terrifying. I never experienced anything like that in my life."
West told the two officers he did not learn a young girl had been killed until talking to his mother the next morning.
Asked why he didn't contact police or pursue the other boat, West said: "I don't know; I just panicked."
Court was adjourned for the day before the remainder of the video could be shown. Maday will be back on the stand Friday when defense attorneys will have a chance to question him.
Hogan has indicated she could finish calling witnesses by Friday.