Bismarck Dinius has been dealt a serious blow. He found out in court today that he will stand trial in the death of Lynn Thornton of Willows. She was a passenger on the sailboat Dinius was steering one night in April 2006, when a powerboat driven by the number two official in the Lake County Sheriff’s Department slammed into them. A judge ruled today Dinius should be tried for manslaughter because the navigation light on the stern or back of the boat was off at the time of the crash. That issue is in dispute, and most members of the sailing community are outraged that the powerboat driver isn’t being charged because of his high rate of speed at night. Dinius told me today, “I can’t imagine that the facts of this case if presented to a jury would convict me. I have to believe in that, I really do.” He’ll be arraigned in July and receive his trial date, most probably in September.
Lake County Superior Judge Richard Martin said in court today that Bismarck Dinius, because of his experience as a sailor, should have known that powerboats speed around Clear Lake at night. Martin says Dinius should have made sure his sailboat’s stern light was on. The judge apparently rejected testimony from two defense experts that the filaments in the sailboat’s light bulbs show they were on a millisecond before the crash. He relied on people who were in the area that night – two teenage girls who were socializing on shore, two fishermen in a boat nearby – who said they didn’t see the sailboat’s lights. We explored problems with their stories in past reports and blogs.
The man driving the powerboat, Lake County Chief Deputy Sheriff Russell Perdock, testified today he could see lights on shore across the lake, but that he could only see objects on the water about ten feet away. Perdock said there’s no speed limit on Clear Lake even at night, but that he understood state and federal safe boating laws apply. In Perdock’s words, “To the best of my recollection, it’s that you’re able to either avert your course or be able to stop.” Defense attorney Victor Haltom asked, "Were you traveling at a speed where you could have slowed down in a distance of ten feet?” Perdock answered, “No.” Perdock was traveling a reported 40 to 50 miles an hour that night.
In his closing arguments, Haltom said, “I think it’s just matter of common sense that had Chief Deputy Perdock had been driving his boat at a reasonable speed, maybe even 15-20 mph, we don’t have a dead person in this case, we have an accident, maybe some injuries. … The ringing, searing question that any reasonable observer of this case has to be asking is why is Perdock not being charged with vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence?”
By law, Perdock could still face charges. Knowing the Lake County District Attorney's position on the case, it's not likely. We’ll see what a jury decides in Bismarck Dinius' case this fall.