Alcohol, drugs involved in fatal boat crash, court hears

Alcohol and drugs were consumed aboard a powerboat on Shuswap Lake before a fatal night-time collision with Copper Island, a witness testified Tuesday in B.C. Supreme Court.

Todd Kerr faces charges of dangerous driving causing death and injury as a result of the accident, which occurred on the B.C. Day long weekend - Aug. 2, 2008 at about 11:30 p.m. The crash killed Pattie Lynn McKenna, 24, one of the passengers aboard.

Kerr and two friends headed out on the lake that night to pick up two women at a private marina, the court heard in initial testimony as the trial opened.

Questioned by Crown prosecutor Neville Flanagan, Jennifer Jankowski said she'd been out on the lake with Kerr earlier in the day. He approached her later and asked her if she'd like to go on a half-hour ride to pick up friends of Jason Baird.

Jankowski told Justice Robert Powers that, although alcohol was consumed earlier in the day, she was comfortable with Baird driving. Only when they took to the lake did the darkness give her concern.

She said she saw Baird and Kerr hunched over a plate she believed had cocaine on it.

Once out on the lake, they had difficulty locating the correct bay to pick up the other two women, she said. Baird slowed the boat several times to avoid objects possibly in the water.

"I became nervous that he was having trouble navigating," she said.

Due to that uncertainty, Kerr, a more experienced boater, took control. They found the marina, picked up the women and headed back to their moorage. They each had a beer or cooler as well. Kerr also offered the passengers ecstasy pills, but no one consumed them, evidence that raised an objection from Kerr's defence lawyer since it had no bearing on what ensued. The judge agreed.

As they headed back, Baird and Kerr had a brief, heated exchange about the proper direction. Jankowski also testified that Kerr was reluctant to make the trip in the first place. Nonetheless, they maintained the course that Kerr had begun, straight out of the bay.

After Baird and two of the women descended into the boat's cuddy or berth, the boat slowed briefly before hitting the island at speed, Jankowski said. She was thrown forward and broke some ribs while Kerr was knocked unconscious and badly cut. Two others emerged from the cuddy with injuries, but McKenna was motionless on the bottom of the boat.

In cross-examination by defence lawyer James Sutherland, she later said that Kerr showed himself to be experienced and competent in his handling of the twin-engined vessel.

Sutherland asked the witness why she didn't speak up during the discussion about the direction they were going.

"I didn't know the area," she said. "I believed they had some knowledge of the area. I assumed Todd knew where he was going."

Jankowski said she didn't know it was an island they'd struck until she arrived at hospital in Salmon Arm.

Her testimony continues Wednesday. The trial is expected to continue for another eight days.

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