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 County Jail Booking Report

Here is the latest jail booking report from Hamilton County: ACOSTA, STEAVEAN ANDREW  3416 LISA DR EAST RIDGE, 37412  Age at Arrest: 27 years old Arresting Agency: Alcoholic BEV Comm POSSESSION OF ALCOHOL (UNDER AGE) --- ALUMADO, AROLDO  1603 KIRBY AVE APT 1 CHATTANOOGA, 37404  Age at Arrest: 34 years old Arresting Agency: Hamilton County ... (click for more)

Signal's Shoal Creek Bridge Called Worst In The County; To Be Replaced

A bridge at Signal Mountain crossing Shoal Creek that was built in 1975 as part of the subdivision has been labeled the worse in the county.   Signal Mountain officials said it has been inspected by TDOT and given a rating of 39.9 percent adequate. It is considered to be in critical condition, which qualifies for replacing it with funding from the state.   ... (click for more)

Erlanger Electronic Medical Records Purchase Doesn't Add Up - And Response (2)

Erlanger has recently announced their decision to purchase a $100,000,000 Electronic Health Information System. Something smells. Erlanger's downtown campus has 760 licensed beds, according to hospital-data. That would equate to $131,578 per bed for this system (now that's a lot of ipads). Please re-read that simple math. I use to manage an Electric Medication Administration ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: City Limits Worry Dogs, Cats

If you are a dog or a cat in the Chattanooga area, it is very important to know exactly where the city limits are. You need to know that if a stray animal is rescued in the city, it is taken to one of the finest animal shelters in all of America. But if the errant pooch or tabby is found in Hamilton County – outside the city limits -- it is taken to arguably the worst animal facility ... (click for more)

Mocs Picked 8th In Preseason FCS Poll

We have not even reached June yet, but the preseason prognostications are already starting for the upcoming college football season.  Sporting News has already released its 2015 College Football Preview and picked the Mocs No. 8 in its preseason FCS top-25 and No. 1 in the Southern Conference.  Chattanooga is coming off a 10-4 overall record that included a trip to ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Advances To National Amateur Championship

The Chattanooga Football Club beat the Maryland Bays 2-0 Friday night in the second semifinal game of the 2014 National Amateur Championships here in Chattanooga. Chattanooga advances to play the Michigan Bucks Saturday night at 7:30 in the championship. The two teams are competing for the Hank Steinbrecher Trophy which is awarded to the top amateur team in the nation.   ... (click for more)