Trial Underway For Charles Luetke, Charged For Deaths Of 2 Men In 2010 In Barge Accident

Tuesday, May 13, 2014 - by Hollie Webb
Attorney Samuel Hudson
Attorney Samuel Hudson
- photo by Hollie Webb

Defense attorney Samuel Hudson said Tuesday afternoon, "Everything Captain Luetke did that day was reasonable based on professional experience." Charles Luetke, now 42, is charged with criminally negligent homicide after the drowning deaths of two men whose fishing boat was struck by a tugboat piloted by Luetke in 2010.

However, prosecutor Lance Pope said, "Think about all the opportunities that the defendant had to avoid that collision, all the training he's had, the manpower he had at his disposal to keep a lookout.

To make sure that they were being safe." 

Attorney Hudson said, "The state will try to convince you that Mr. Luetke had every single chance in the world to avoid this accident. So did the recreational boat."

He told the jury that on the day of the accident, the sky had been perfectly clear and visibility had been around seven to eight miles. He also pointed out the barge, named the Bearcat, had only been going five miles per hour and was 21 feet tall.

He said, "So for a distance of seven to eight miles, that would have been visible coming down the river." 

In his opening statement, prosecutor Pope said co-pilot Will Stevens had alerted Luetke that something was wrong, saying there was a strong odor of gasoline and a foreign gas can lodged in the front of the barge.

However, according to the prosecution, Luetke decided to continue on. Attorney Pope said Luetke "assures Will Stevens that there is nothing wrong and they keep on moving down the river. At some point in time, Luetke is notified that a barge has hit a boat." Still, Luetke said it could not have been them. 

While David Wilkey was able to escape from the accident, both Richard Wilkey and Tim Spidle drowned.

Attorney Hudson noted that both were found to have a BAC of approximately .2, over twice the legal limit to drive a vehicle. Mr. Spidle had also smoked marijuana. 

The first witness on Tuesday was Andrew Thompson, a Bradley County resident who was on the river and one of the people who responded to the capsized fishing boat. He did not see the accident and at first thought the boat was a flipped jet ski.

He said his father tried to perform CPR on Mr. Spidle but he never got a pulse. 

Attorney Hudson asked, "Based on what you saw...those boaters should have saw that barge shouldn't they?" Mr. Thompson said, "I would think so."

The next two witnesses were Carolyn and Jeff Rice, a couple who had also been out on the river that day, stopping to help when they saw the fishing boat. 

Mrs. Rice said, "As we got closer we could see that it was the underside of a boat and there was a man hanging on it. My husband jumped in the water and I called 911."

She and her husband both spoke to David Wilkey after his rescue and said he did not smell of alcohol or marijuana.

Mr. Rice said, "He just seemed like he was in shock. I mean, good grief, I can't imagine going through that. I never thought that he was under the influence of anything. I realized that he had just been through a traumatic experience and was dealing with that." 

Sean Fairbanks, another boater to respond, was the fourth witness. He said, "I wanted to roll the boat over to make sure no one was under the boat...The man we were talking to kept wanting to know where his buddies were."

The last witness was W.G. "Buck" Campbell, an employee of the Bradley County Sheriff's Office and a Certified Accident reconstructionist. 

From his calculations based on measurements of the boat and the river, for any barge like the Bearcat, he said there would be an approximately mile-long blind spot directly in the front.

However, attorney Hudson said the calculations did not take into account the barge rising and falling in the water. He said a boat would not have a constant height because of this.


Latest Hamilton County Jail Booking Report - And Mug Shots

Here is the latest jail booking report from Hamilton County: ALLGOOD, KEVIN DEWAYNE     2001 E 12TH ST CHATTANOOGA, 37404     31     Hamilton County          FAILURE TO APPEAR BELL, MARCUS LAJUAN     2418 KIRBY AVE CHATTANOOGA, 37404     31     Hamilton ... (click for more)

Knoxville Couple Injured In Motorcycle Accident In Cleveland Early Saturday Morning

Two people were injured early Saturday in a motorcycle accident in Cleveland. At 5:58 a.m a motorcycle operated by an individual identified as Dale Dockery, 48, of Knoxville, struck the concrete barrier on I-75 at the exit 20 off ramp. Mr. Dockery was headed southbound toward Chattanooga. He and his wife Karen, 48, were transported by Bradley County EMS to Erlanger. ... (click for more)

An Open Letter To Tennesseans

We are incredibly fortunate to live in a state in which companies worldwide are clamoring to establish a presence. Many attribute it to our pro-business culture, well-prepared workforce, low tax environment, right-to-work policies, and engaged citizenry.  That is why the announcement by Volkswagen to build its midsize sports utility vehicle and establish the South’s ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: O’Reilly’s Rant On Race

I don’t really care whether you like Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly but I strongly believe I must share an urgent transcript with you of what he said earlier this week. It’s been talked about on every network and it speaks boldly to the very heart of an American epidemic. Last weekend in Chicago 47 people were shot and five of them died. Black-on-black shootings have gotten ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Crushes Sacramento Gold 4-1; Advances To National Championship Game

Not only did they win, they won big.  The Chattanooga Football Club becomes the first team in NPSL history to play in three national championships.  CFC scored four unanswered goals Saturday to beat visiting Sacramento Gold 4-1.   Sacramento scored on a long shot by Jason Jones in the 13th minute to take a 1-0 lead.   Chattanooga would answer with two goals ... (click for more)

Stars Sink Lookouts Sunday, 8-4

Huntsville, AL --- The Huntsville Stars erased a 4-1 deficit late in the game Sunday and scored a combined seven runs in the seventh and eighth innings to comeback and defeat the Chattanooga Lookouts 8-4 at Joe Davis Stadium.  With the win, the Stars ended their season long five game losing streak. Recap Chattanooga starter Nick Struck who dominated the Stars over ... (click for more)