OGDEN -- A judge has ruled that evidence is sufficient to advance to trial three men charged in an Aug. 21 boating fatality at Pineview Reservoir.
But before the ruling Thursday, prosecutors played in 2nd District Court the tape of Donald Vaughn Anderson’s 911 call as he tried to save the life of Esther Fujimoto after she was struck by a boat while swimming.
The 22-minute tape silenced the packed courtroom. There were only tears from the gallery, with easily a dozen friends and family members of Fujimoto on hand, as a backdrop to the horrific tape that played the last minutes of Fujimoto’s life.
Anderson held the phone in one hand while the other kept Fujimoto afloat as her blood stained the water. He couldn’t pull her into his small rowboat without capsizing.
Her ripped intestines were visible below the water. The lilting voice of the dispatcher maintaining calm contrasts with Anderson alternately yelling, cursing, crying and pleading for 22 minutes.
“I saw the boat that done it, and they left her,” he is heard saying, out of breath. “… They left her … please hurry. I don’t know what to do.”
The dispatcher worked to keep Anderson calm, encouraging him and asking questions throughout, such as the description of the boat. Is Fujimoto breathing? “Barely. … She’s breathing, but she’s hardly moving anymore. … She’s not answering me anymore.”
At first, Fujimoto managed to get one of her hands on the boat, but soon slipped away.
Anderson tried to give the dispatcher directions for emergency crews to find him and Fujimoto. His voice is breaking as he screams at Fujimoto, “Don’t leave me … NO,” before becoming unintelligible.
Then suddenly he’s clear again, yelling through tears, “Her mouth is moving. She opened her mouth.” The dispatcher keeps saying, “Keep her head above water for me.”
The dispatcher asks if Fujimoto is wearing a life jacket. Anderson said she isn’t, she never does, she regularly swam in the area, and he knows her.
Then he goes back to the boaters, “They hit her and left her. They hauled ass out of here.”
Hysterically, he says, “Her eyes are open. But she’s not doing anything,” amid unintelligible yelling as emergency crews finally arrive.
The tape ends and is turned off in court. Fujimoto died as Anderson held her maybe 10 inches away as he knelt in his rowboat.
Skyler Shepherd, 22, Colton Raines, 22, and Robert Cole Boyer, 29, quietly sat as the gut-wrenching tape played in court.
All three men are charged with class A misdemeanor obstruction of justice; Raines and Shepherd also are charged with class A misdemeanor reckless endangerment and class B misdemeanor failure to render aid.
Judge Ernie Jones set an Aug. 13 pretrial conference after all three men pleaded innocent to the charges.
Anderson also took the stand during the nearly four-hour preliminary hearing. When he rowed up to Fujimoto, he said, she had her arms stretched out on the water, moving her hands a little, keeping afloat.
The only full sentence he heard from her was a faint “Help me,” which she said twice just as he arrived. Anderson testified he had heard Fujimoto’s “bloodcurdling screams” from his home on the south shore of the Spring Creek Cove area of Pineview.
As he raced to the rowboat, he saw an in-board motorboat stopped on the reservoir and three men looking down into the water, their backs to him.
He testified he heard someone ask twice, “Lady, are you all right?” Then they sped off, he said, and he saw Fujimoto bobbing in the water.
According to testimony, Shepherd, owner of the boat, told Weber County Sheriff’s Detective Don Kelly that Fujimoto seemed upset with them, “so they left.”
Deputy Weber County Attorney Teral Tree in his opening statement said “the fact the three co-defendants left her in the water sealed her fate.”
Fujimoto, 49, was a molecular biologist at the University of Utah.
Tree said that, at the time of the accident, police sealed off Pineview’s boat ramps and prevented anyone from leaving the reservoir until they were questioned about the hit-and-run.
At that time, all three defendants told police they didn’t know anything about the accident.
Within two weeks of that, Shepherd admitted it was his boat that struck the woman and that Raines was driving, Tree noted.
Shepherd’s attorney, Glen Neeley, argued there was nothing anyone could have done for Fujimoto after she was hit.
He pointed to state Medical Examiner Todd Grey’s testimony that saving Fujimoto would have required someone finding the severed femoral arteries in her legs and sealing them with a clamp or tourniquet — difficult in a medical setting, much less a boat on open water, Neeley said.
“They were within a mile and a half of a fire station,” Deputy Weber County Attorney Dean Saunders countered. “If they’d scooped her up, she had a chance to survive. By doing nothing, they sealed her fate.”
Grey testified Fujimoto died from massive blood loss as a result of cuts from propeller blades to her lower body.
“Her legs were chopped to pieces.”