Luetke's Attorney Says He Had Right-Of-Way In Fatal Boating Accident

Wednesday, May 14, 2014 - by Hollie Webb

In the ongoing trial of Captain Warren Luetke, defense attorney Samuel Hudson said that the defendant's boat actually had the right-of-way in the river according to nautical rules because it was going with the current.

Luetke, charged with criminally negligent homicide, was the pilot of the Bearcat at the time of the 2010 accident when it struck a small fishing boat with three passengers, two of whom drowned. The state maintains that these deaths were caused by Luetke not having a proper lookout at the front of the barges, thus creating a large blind spot.

 

However, attorney Hudson pointed out that the men on the fishing boat did not have a proper lookout either if they never saw the barge even though it was moving only five miles per hour.

According to the prosecution, the motor on the fishing boat had died while they were in the navigable channel and the men were pulling the boat along using a trot line. 

Defense attorney Hudson said, "(David Wilkey) was not serving as a proper lookout if he kept his eyes on the trotl ine for 15 minutes and never looked upstream in the navigable channel where barges might be coming."

Officer Matt Majors, one of the TWRA investigators, testified that technically, neither party had been looking out properly. 

Prosecutor Lance Pope said if Luetke had been using a proper lookout, the tugboat could have sounded a horn and attempted to alert the fishing boat crew.

Officer Majors said, "Based on our investigation, we have found that there was plenty of room to pass the 15-foot boat in front of them." 

Attorney Hudson said, "If you're pushing nine barges, it stands to reason it's going to take you a while to turn. A fishing boat is clearly more capable of turning...If you're going to be in the navigable channel not looking upstream, don't you think you should have an engine that works?"

Officer Majors also said, "I don't know anything in the navigational rules that relieves a mariner of his responsibility to take action to avoid a collision." 

Another TWRA officer, Ben Davis, testified that he himself had been surprised by barges at times, saying, "They're very quiet, surprisingly quiet...all the noise is several hundred feet behind the barge."

Medical examiner James Metcalfe was also called in as a witness. He said that the decomposition in the body of Richard Wilkey could have accounted for some of the alcohol content found in the blood. However, he said this could not be determined for sure. 

He also said there was not a way to tell if the abrasions found on either body had occurred before or after death.

Jennifer Hall from the TBI crime lab in Nashville testified about the marijuana detected in the blood samples. She said both drowning victims had an amount that was typical of those charged with DUIs.

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