OGDEN — The first public airing of any kind of a defense in the fatal Pineview boating accident was delivered to the jury Monday afternoon as Skyler Shepherd’s trial opened.
Shepherd, 22, is charged with reckless endangerment, obstruction of justice and leaving the scene of an accident. Prosecutors say Shepherd was aboard with Colton Raines and Robert Cole Boyer when the watercraft struck swimmer Esther Fujimoto on Aug. 21, 2011.
The charges stem from what happened after Fujimoto was struck by the boat and Shepherd and his two friends left her in the water.
“Skyler Shepherd making the executive decision to get the hell out of Dodge is what this case is about,” Deputy Weber County Attorney Teral Tree said in concluding his opening statement to the jury.
Shepherd’s attorney, Glen Neeley, then stood to remind the jury that Shepherd is still presumed innocent.
“I want to tell you what happened from Skyler’s point of view … I’m 22 years old, I haven’t had this boat very long,” Neeley said.
Shepherd was relaxing in the back, he said, and did not hear the women scream when she was hit by the boat, driven by Raines. Trial of Raines and Boyer is set for February.
Shepherd took over the steering wheel when Raines stopped the boat and said he thought he had hit someone.
Shepherd then drove the boat back to where Fujimoto was floating in the water, the three men then asking her several times if she was all right.
Neeley said that Fujimoto only answered with a gasping “yeah” that sounded angry.
“Skyler interpreted that to mean the boat got too close to her and that she was upset,” Neeley said.
Believing the woman was not harmed, Shepherd sped away.
“He’d just gotten yelled at. He felt stupid, so yes, he throttled all the way down.”
Shepherd didn’t realize the woman was hurt until the next day when he saw the news of her death on TV, Neeley said.
State Medical Examiner Todd Grey was the first trial witness, taking the stand at 3:30 p.m. to say the boat’s propeller blades broke Fujimoto’s pelvis and the femur in the left leg and nearly severed it at the knee. She bled to death, he said, and the blood in the water would have looked like a shark attack.
The trial before 2nd District Judge Ernie Jones is scheduled to run through Thursday.
Seating of the jury was extended through the morning and well into the afternoon because of pretrial publicity concerns. The attorneys took some prospective jurors into the judge’s chambers to determine how much they had heard of the case, because it has drawn extensive media coverage. Fujimoto was a cancer researcher at the University of Utah.
Also in chambers, Neeley argued unsuccessfully that prosecutors not be allowed to tell the jury Shepherd had a duty to report the accident to police.
In open court, he asked to have placed on the record his stance that such depictions are grounds for a mistrial.
“It’s my position that we don’t have to talk to police,” Neeley said. “We don’t have a duty to report. We have a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.”
The prosecution in turn took exception to one of Neeley’s statements during opening arguments.
As he began telling the jury Fujimoto was swimming in an area where swimmers were banned, Deputy Weber County Attorney Dean Saunders objected, saying “That’s not what the evidence is.”
But Judge Jones overruled, saying it was allowable in opening statements. “He’s indicating to the jury what he’s going to try to prove.”
The trial has drawn Fujimoto’s relatives from around the country, including both her brothers and her two sisters, hailing from Boise, Hawaii and California.
Brother Bryan Fujimoto said Esther and her sister Denice, of Ogden, swam together in Pineview’s Spring Creek area, where the boating fatality occurred, thousands of times over the past 15 years.
Although she didn’t see her sister hit by the boat, he said, Denice was swimming that same day and is expected to testify.
“It’s an outrage that this is going to trial, that they won’t admit to what they did,” Bryan Fujimoto said.