Driving a speedboat in the blackness of Shuswap Lake on a summer night — resulting in the death of a young woman — was “clearly negligent” but not criminal, a B.C. Supreme Court justice said Wednesday.
But Justice Robert Powers said boat operator Todd Kerr didn’t cross the line into wanton recklessness or intentional disregard for safety before he smashed into Copper Island on Aug. 2, 2008.
“This case is extremely close to the line,” Powers acknowledged.
Kerr was acquitted of dangerous operation of a vehicle causing death and dangerous operation of a vehicle causing bodily injury. Pattie McKenna was killed in the crash and several other passengers were injured.
The 43-year-old man was operating a friend’s 10-metre speedboat three years ago, giving rides and ferrying passengers between a houseboat and Blind Bay on the South Shore.
Powers said Kerr was relatively experienced behind the wheel but hadn’t navigated the lake before in the daytime and didn’t understand navigational signals. The boat’s owner, Jason Baird, gave him the controls when he was no longer comfortable in the darkness.
The two argued about the direction to take and were unsure of their surroundings, Powers said.
Convinced he was headed back to the houseboat, Kerr set out at a planing speed of about 50 km/h — less than half the speed at which the boat was capable. Visibility was limited to about seven metres.
“No one saw Copper Island or were aware of its presence until they collided,” Powers said.
The boat hit the lsland, travelling nearly five metres up the shore before striking a tree and sliding back into the lake.
Powers said the safest option would have entailed driving the boat at a speed above idling, but below that which would raise the bow. Instead, Kerr chose to drive at a speed to make the boat plane, but no faster.
That speed “would have made it impossible to avoid hazards,” Powers said.
But the Crown did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Kerr’s behavior was a “marked departure” from the care that a reasonable person would have used: he wasn’t drunk, was travelling far below top speed, there was no boat traffic and he believed he was aware of his surroundings.
To prove guilt, Powers said Kerr’s actions would have needed “to go significantly beyond negligence.”