OGDEN — A lawyer for one of the boaters charged with failing to rescue a swimmer cut down by the powerboat’s propeller argued Thursday that the woman put herself in danger by swimming in open water. The woman, a University of Utah scientist, bled to death at an Ogden-area reservoir last year.
“You would guess it would be dangerous to swim in an area where boats can boat, in open water, with 10-inch swells?” Glen Neeley, the defense attorney, asked a Weber County sheriff’s investigator during a trial in 2nd District Court.
“Yes,” said Detective Scott Sorensen. He also testified that swimmers have been known to use the open bay, which was normally too shallow for boats.
Neeley pounded away at police accounts accusing Skyler Shepherd, 22, of knowing the swimmer was badly injured but leaving her to die.
Shepherd has said he wasn’t driving when the boat hit Esther Fujimoto. Two other men face a separate trial later, all charged with failing to render aid, reckless endangerment and obstructing justice.
Shepard took the wheel to circle back and said the woman appeared angry over a close encounter but uninjured, so he took off, he told Weber County Sheriff’s Detective Don Kelly in a taped interview played for jurors Thursday.
“My buddy swerved,” he said. “I didn’t feel a thud or a shake.”
Shepard’s lawyer pointed out to the jury that his client was the only one of the three defendants to offer a statement to investigators and spoke truthfully, but is still being charged.
State Medical Examiner Todd Grey has testified that Fujimoto’s legs had been sliced by the boat’s propeller, causing a “horribly painful” wound before her death.
Shepard’s trial was expected to go to a six-person jury Friday.
Earlier, the trial featured a 911 call made by a man who rowed out to Fujimoto.
“Hurry, she’s dying,” Vaughn Anderson told police dispatchers. He was holding Fujimoto’s hand as she dangled in the water.
“Come on lady don’t leave me — please, lady,” said Anderson, according to tapes played in court Tuesday.
At other times Anderson told dispatchers, “I saw the boat that done it, but they left her.”
Fujimoto, 49, was a senior lab specialist and part of a team at the University of Utah team that helped identify a breast cancer gene.
More recently, she was conducting lab experiments investigating cerebral palsy and other neurological disorders, her supervisor, Joshua Bonkowsky, an adjunct professor and specialist in pediatric neurology, told The Associated Press through University of Utah spokesman Phil Sahm.
Fujimoto was author or co-author of several studies published by medical journals, Bonkowsky said through the spokesman. The supervisor didn’t respond directly to messages from the AP.
Fujimoto’s family has sued the three boaters for wrongful death, claiming in court records they were drinking and smoking marijuana when they hit her several hundred feet from shore. Shepherd has consistently maintained he wasn’t smoking pot and drank little that day.
The defendants’ lawyers say Fujimoto was negligent for swimming in open water.
The other men on the boat, Colton Raines, 23, and Robert Cole Boyer, 30, will be tried together on the misdemeanor charges in February.
Prosecutors say the men failed to report the accident and wiped down the boat before it could be examined by police. Neeley maintains Shepherd didn’t know for certain his boat had struck the woman until he heard news reports later.