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

Here is the latest jail booking report from Hamilton County: BAILEY, CORDARRIUS DEQUAN  1612 TRUMAN AVE EAST RIDGE, 37412  Age at Arrest: 18 years old Arresting Agency: Hamilton County CONTEMPT OF COURT (VIOLATION OF COMMUNITY PLACEMEN --- BELL, RONALD KEITH  631 DOGWOOD DR THOMSON, 30824  Age at Arrest: 38 years old Arresting Agency: Hamilton ... (click for more)

Upcoming City Council Agenda For Tuesday

Here is the upcoming City Council agenda: I. Call to Order. II. Pledge of Allegiance/Invocation (Councilman Gilbert). III. Minute Approval. IV. Special Presentation. “Mediation Awareness Week Proclamation” By Councilwoman Carol Berz V. Ordinances – Final Reading : (None) VI. Ordinances – First Reading : POLICE a. An ordinance to amend Chattanooga ... (click for more)

Chattanooga's Citizens Are The Best

Today, when I finished my shift, my wife and I had a rare kid-free time where she and I could enjoy a nice quiet dinner. So, when I left my extra job and she left her job, we met at a neat local place in St. Elmo. She and I had been looking forward to and planning this dinner all day. You see, between my work with the city of Chattanooga, my many hours of extra jobs, and our responsibilities ... (click for more)

My Garden In October

Just when you thought the weather would never break, the heat was on low this morning as Tide and I stepped from the house to study our October garden. Falling leaves and the dog’s dirty tennis balls aside, let’s praise the Lord that, as a new month dawns, we are still blessed with orchids and onions galore. The dog asks that I include the fact October is National Pet Adoption month ... (click for more)

Ooltewah Demolishes Soddy-Daisy 62-7 In Homecoming Blowout

Ooltewah exploded for 31 first-quarter points, kept the pedal to the metal and steamrolled Soddy-Daisy 62-7 Friday night in a Region 4-5A football whuppin’ that left the Trojans shaking their heads and the Owls celebrating an eye-popping homecoming triumph at James N. Monroe Stadium. It was Ooltewah’s sixth straight win against the Trojans and the average score in those games ... (click for more)

McCallie Routs Baylor, 42-7

McCallie’s high-powered offense – averaging 45 points in its four wins prior to Friday night - is as good as advertised and it’s defense –allowing only 23 points in those four victories - is rock solid. Just ask Baylor. Thanks to a clicking-on-all-cylinders offense led by senior quarterback Robert Riddle - 181 passing yards and three touchdowns – and a defense with three ... (click for more)