As expected, Alexander West's defense team began calling witnesses to testify in the Lake George man’s trial Monday afternoon. West is accused of being drunk and high on drugs to cause a deadly boat crash last summer. Matt Hunter reports from Warren County.
QUEENSBURY, N.Y. – Two different boating experts were on the witness stand during Alexander West’s trial on Monday; one for the prosecution, the other for the defense. Each offered different conclusions about the July 25 crash on Lake George on Lake George that claimed the life of eight-year-old Charlotte McCue.
Stanley Los, a retired member of the FBI's boat program, was the defense team's second witness and was granted "expert status" by Judge John Hall. Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan objected to the designation, something defense lawyers did to Hogan's own expert, Eric Weinreber, last Friday when his two-day testimony began.
Based on reviewing evidence in the case, Los testified he believes West's Larson boat hit Robert Knarr's Garwood on the starboard, or right side, at a "crossing" angle. Earlier in the day, Weinreber testified he believe West’s boat struck Knarr’s from the rear in an “overtaking” situation, which prosecutors believe puts West at fault.
"If impact occurred at the stern, which in my opinion it did not, the damage you have displayed up there would be much worse," Los said, referring to a photo defense lawyer Kathryn Conklin displayed for the jury.
During Hogan's cross-examination of him, Los confirmed he has no formal training on boat crash reconstructions, but does have a master’s license from the U.S. Coast Guard.
Hogan questioned Los about the opinions he drew from a nearby homeowner’s surveillance video of the crash, which first shows Knarr's boat moving left to right across the screen before West’s comes into a view at a faster rate of speed.
"You've seen that video. That Garwood is not stealth, it is not hidden, it is not unlit?" Hogan asked, to which Los replied “correct.”
Los then acknowledged West should have slowed down or changed course to avoid collision. Los also agreed with Hogan that it was West's boat who hit Knarr's and not the other way around.
West's lead attorney, Cheryl Coleman, says she's not concerned that last exchange will harm her case.
"I think the key is that both sides may have had obligations,” Coleman said after court let out for the day. “What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Nobody on either boat saw anything, and that is why it is an accident and not a homicide."
The first defense witness to testify before Los was Dawn O’Keefe, the owner of The Huddle restaurant in Bolton Landing where West and his friends had dinner before the crash. The woman testified she remembered seeing West there and that he did not appear intoxicated to her.
The prosecution’s final witness before resting its case was Eric McCue, the father of Charlotte and husband of Courtney McCue, who was seated in the boat’s rear compartment at the time of the deadly crash.
"[Charlotte] had a big gash in her head,” McCue told jurors about the moment he first turned around after the collision. “I put my hand over it to try and hold it together. I couldn't save her; there was nothing I could do."
As was the case with his other family members who testified, McCue grew emotional on the stand and struggled to fight back tears.
"Everything got lit up,” McCue described of the moment Knarr pulled back into his boathouse. “I didn't want anybody else to see her that way, so I covered her with a blanket. I quit on her."
Coleman questioned McCue about differences between the statement he gave to police two days after crash and his testimony on Monday. In July, he told authorities he saw the bow of another boat “charging up the right side” of Knarr’s, whereas on Monday, he testified West’s boat approached from over his shoulder at the rear.
"What I said then is consistent with what I told you today," McCue responded to one of Coleman’s questions.
The trial is on break Tuesday and is scheduled to resume Wednesday morning.