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Am Cup 35: Bermuda man not guilty in Kiwi Cup fan's death

by Richard Gladwell, 26 Aug 2018 23:13 PDT 27 August 2018
Charter catamarans anchored opposite Hamilton, Bermuda on the Great Sound in idyllic conditions - shot a week before the tragedy on June 1, 2017. © Richard Gladwell

The sequel to the death of a Nelson (NZ) woman, during the 35th America's Cup, concluded in Bermuda on Friday.

Andrew Lake (27) had been charged with manslaughter, but was found not guilty in a majority verdict after a two week Jury trial in the Supreme Court in Bermuda.

While Lake has been discharged on the charge of manslaughter he returned to Court on Monday to be sentenced on other lesser charges including causing the death of New Zealander Mary McKee by reckless driving and a second charge of causing injury by dangerous driving.

He pleaded guilty to those charges in April and was sentenced to eight months, suspended for two years, and 100 hours of community service.

The fatality occurred on June 1, soon after the start of the Qualifiers for the 35th America's Cup Regatta after two RIBs left Hamilton at night to travel across the Great Sound to a fleet of catamarans where the McKees and others were staying. They had only arrived in Bermuda that day, had been across to the catamarans on which they were staying and had earlier returned across the Sound in an 8 metre RIB to have a meal and evening in Hamilton.

Conditions were calm, with a still and moonless night when they prepared to leave around 10.30pm.

At around 11pm, the McKees were traveling in a smaller RIB behind a larger RIB. Their boat was unlit, which is standard (if against regulations) practice in a small RIB.

They were struck by a 17ft boat being driven at an admitted 20kts in a 10kt speed limit area, while prosecutors alleged that Lake's speed was nearer 30kts. Andrew Lake told the Jury that he initially thought he had hit a buoy.

He said that he only saw the lead inflatable, coloured red, at the last minute and swung to avoid it, running over the unseen smaller, grey inflatable following the larger boat. Evidence was given that the 17ft boat came from behind and struck the starboard aft quarter of the small RIB before passing diagonally across towards the port bow.

Two other people, including Mary McKee's husband Arthur were hit, but he was not thrown out of the second inflatable. Arthur McKee suffered a skull fracture. A third person Charlie Watson was thrown out of the boat and sustained leg injuries. Mary McKee is believed to have been stunned in the collision. She was thrown from the boat and drowned before she was found.

No-one was wearing lifejackets, although two were later found in the smaller RIB.

Lake claimed earlier in the trial that the blame was shared equally between the three vessels - as while he was travelling at excessive speed, the other two vessels were not carrying lights. Evidence was given from a former Royal Navy Commander, now running a marine store in Bermuda, that the responsibility of all vessels was to display the correct lights in order to be seen. He added that after the incident, his store had a run on navigation lights - and sold out.

At Lake's sentencing several victim impact statements were read out. The Royal Gazette reports:

Cindy Clarke, deputy director of the Department of Public Prosecutions, read to the court several statements from Mrs McKee’s family, including her four children.

Lucy McKee, her eldest daughter, said: “Mum was a beautiful, compassionate, open-minded, fun and clever woman. She had a natural empathy and genuine, warm humour that was instantly apparent to anyone who met her.”

Elliot McKee, her son, said: “I’m sure the guilt that you feel over causing the death of another person is great, but I can assure you that it would pale in absolute comparison to the guilt you would feel if you truly knew who my mother was and just how much she meant to so many of us on this earth.

“No victim impact statement could ever have the power to make you truly understand the profound amount of pain you have caused my family and the countless others who loved my mother greatly.”

Missy McKee, her youngest daughter, said she had hoped to announce her pregnancy before Mrs McKee left the island.

She added: “Because of you, my daughter will never meet her grandmother and one day I will have to explain to her why.”

Jerome Lynch, defence lawyer for Lake, said the consequences of the crash were tragic as highlighted by the “moving” statements from Mrs McKee’s family.

However, he said the accident would probably never have happened if the inflatable boat struck by Lake had displayed navigation lights.

Mr Lynch said: “Contributory negligence is not a defence, but it couldn’t be ignored and shouldn’t be ignored on sentencing.”

Mr Lynch questioned how a jury would have voted if Mr Watson had been charged with not having the required navigational lights.

Mr Lynch said: “It was at best irresponsible and at worst culpable.”

He added that civil actions in connection with the loss of Mrs McKee and the injuries suffered to others in the crash would probably be launched.

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