Lake George has long been a popular destination for anyone looking to get away and spend some time on the water. In fact, it was rated #5 in the country as a “desirable family vacation destination” by Smart Money Magazine. Sadly, even the highest-rated vacation spots are not exempt from devastating accidents, like the one that took the life of an 8-year-old girl in July of 2016.
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On May 8th, 2017, a jury convicted a 25-year-old man of second-degree manslaughter and seven other counts for the role he played in a boat accident that killed a child and seriously injured her mom.
According to the family of the deceased, the most horrific moment of their lives happened in a matter of seconds. After dinner, the entire family decided to go out for an evening sail on the grandfather’s 28-foot-long Gar Wood boat, a common occurrence. In fact, the family called their time on the boat “putt-putt cruises” because it was such a relaxing experience.
The deceased, her grandparents, parents, and her two siblings were all on the boat. It was a beautiful night on the water and the 8-year-old had fallen asleep, with her head in her mother’s lap. The trip was nearing its end - they could see their house from the vessel.
Suddenly, the mother, who was sitting towards the back with the 8-year-old, realized that another boat was heading directly towards them. She had no time to react.
The other boat, a 21-foot Larson motorboat being driven by Alexander West who was allegedly high on cocaine and drunk, was traveling at such high speeds that it actually went airborne over the Gar Wood, but not high enough that it missed the boat and everyone on board completely. The propellers on the motorboat hit both the child and mother, immediately causing serious injuries to both of them. The accident happened so quickly that those in the front of the boat didn’t realize that something horrible had happened until the screaming started.
The father called 911 and they rushed to the shore while the others attempted to assist the wounded as best they could. Sadly, the 8-year-old sustained fatal injuries and died almost immediately - witnesses described the injuries by saying it looked like “her whole left side was just filleted open”. On one of the three 911 calls made by several people, the operator is trying to explain how to do CPR and the caller responds with “She doesn’t have a chest left, she’s gone.”
West never stopped, instead he took off and didn't help or report the accident. It wasn’t until the next day, when he was sober, that he made a police report, telling them that he didn’t think anyone had been hurt. He denied hearing the screams, even though a resident on shore heard the impact of the two boats and the screams from inside his house and called 911.
The defense team brought in a boating expert who testified that West actually had the right of way, however, when prosecutors showed him a video taken from a security camera of a dock of the Gar Wood moving with lights in plain view, he admitted that if West had been a responsible driver, he would have assumed that an overtaking was going to happen and would have slowed down or changed course to avoid a collision.
He was then asked if the Gar Wood hit the Larson or the Larson hit the Gar Wood and he responded that it was clear that West’s boat had hit the victim’s.
At the end of the trial, West was convicted of second-degree manslaughter and although he hasn't been sentenced yet, he may spend up to 22 years in prison.
Absolutely nothing can bring back a child but it may help to know the person responsible is behind bars. That being said, even though the defendant was found guilty, this criminal trial won’t help the plaintiffs obtain compensation. That’s where a civil lawsuit can help.
Typically, the victims of boating accidents are able to file a boating accident lawsuit against the person who was responsible for the accident. This is a civil lawsuit and is separate from any criminal charges that may be filed. Through either a successful verdict or settlement agreement, the plaintiffs may obtain monetary compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, funeral and burial expenses, physical pain and suffering, and even emotional trauma.