OGDEN — Denice Fujimoto encountered for the first time the three men she is suing in the death of her sister, Esther.
Skyler Shepherd, 22, Colton Raines, 22, and Robert Cole Boyer, 29, were arraigned Wednesday in 2nd District Court on charges from an Aug. 21 boating accident that left Esther Fujimoto dying in the waters of Pineview Reservoir.
Denice was on hand for the arraignment of the three men. She even passed them in the hallway outside the courtroom beforehand, not knowing who they were.
“Unnerving,” is how she described seeing them in Judge Ernie Jones’ courtroom. “I can’t look at them.”
But earlier in the day, she and some of Esther’s co-workers at the University of Utah were celebrating the passage of a bill in the Utah Legislature that would make it a felony to leave the scene of a boating accident.
They had all lobbied for the bill provoked by Esther’s fatality.
Those questions from the media on hand for the arraignments were a little easier to answer without choking up. “I think Esther would be pleased,” Denice said.
Raines, Shepherd and Boyer stood before Jones together with their lawyers and agreed to an April 25 status conference.
Defense attorneys Greg Skordas and Glen Neeley asked for the extended date because of the “very voluminous” evidence in the case needing their review.
Raines and Shepherd are charged with reckless endangerment, obstruction of justice and leaving the scene of an accident. Boyer is charged with obstruction of justice. All of the charges are misdemeanors.
Esther Fujimoto, 49, was a molecular biologist who worked as a senior lab specialist in the University of Utah’s Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy. She was seeking a cure for cerebral palsy and was also part of a team that identified a breast cancer gene.
Denice filed the wrongful death lawsuit in 2nd District Court, also to be heard by Jones, last fall. It remains in the discovery phase without a court date scheduled.
Skordas and Neeley filed responses claiming Fujimoto shared some negligence for swimming in an area not marked off for boaters to avoid.
Denice and her sister’s former co-worker, Brooke Gaynes, told reporters they thought the charges were a little light but said prosecutors informed them they were the only part of the criminal code that addressed the circumstances.
“That’s why we had to go to the Legislature,” Denice said.
“I don’t think anybody really thinks a misdemeanor fits what happened,” Gaynes said.
According to charging documents, Raines was driving Shepherd’s boat when they struck Fujimoto as she swam in the Spring Creek area of Pineview.
A witness reported seeing the boat turn and go back to Fujimoto in the water and the men were heard asking if she was OK. Then they drove off, according to the charges.
Denice Fujimoto said that’s the hardest part, that the men apparently left Esther there as she bled from serious injuries. The swimmer died in a patrol boat.
“It will be good for us to know the truth of what happened,” said Gaynes, saying they hoped for a trial, not a plea bargain. She also spoke for Denice when Denice simply could not answer reporters’ questions Wednesday.