Lone Survivor Of Barge Accident Testifies In Leutke Trial

Thursday, May 15, 2014 - by Hollie Webb
- photo by Hollie Webb

David Wilkey, the only survivor of the crew of a fishing boat struck by the barge called "The Bearcat" in 2010, said Friday afternoon, "I've spent four years trying to forget this."

Mr. Wilkey was subpoenaed to testify in the trial of Captain Warren Luetke, the pilot of the barge at the time of the incident who has been charged with the negligent homicides of Richard Wilkey and Timothy Spidle. 

During the cross examination by defense attorney Sam Hudson, Mr. Wilkey became frustrated with the line of questioning and wanted to leave. Standing up at the witness stand, he said, "I plead the fifth, I'll talk to you all later."

However, Judge Barry Steelman told him he was required to stay and ordered a short recess.


In his earlier questioning by prosecutor Cameron Williams, Mr. Wilkey said Richard "Ricky" Wilkey was his uncle and Timothy Spidle was a lifelong family friend. He said both men were better swimmers than himself because he had "a fear of the water."

He said that on the day of the incident, his uncle and Mr. Spidle had been drinking but that they were not acting intoxicated. Mr. Wilkey said he did not drink but that he had smoked marijuana with Mr. Spidle the previous night. 

He told the jury that he did not see the barge until it was approximately 100 yards away. At that point, Mr. Wilkey said he and the other two men went "into a frenzy" trying to start the boat and get out of the way. However, he said the boat would not start and the men started trying to paddle. He said the barge never blew its horn or sounded a whistle.

He said, "Usually, you'd see them and they'd sound their horn within a half mile of you." He said he had been checking a trotline, only occasionally looking upstream. 

Mr. Wilkey said, "It's kind of a blur after the collision." He said when they were struck by the barge, he was thrown under the water and hit the bottom side of the barge several times before surfacing.

At that point, he said, "I was yelling and screaming. I didn't see nobody anywhere on it. It looked like a ghost ship, you couldn't see nobody." 

By the time he swam back to the capsized boat, he could not see his uncle or Mr. Spidle anywhere.

When asked by attorney Hudson about times of events, Mr. Wilkey said, "I don't wear a watch." 

Attorney Hudson also asked about why he did not remember specific statements he made to police and Mr. Wilkey replied, "you think I might have been just a little bit in shock? I can't remember a whole lot from that day."

Mr. Wilkey also claimed the Bearcat was traveling faster than most tugboats. He said, "It was going faster than five miles per hour too, that's a bunch of bologna." 

However, attorney Hudson pointed out, "You only had 100 yards to judge that."

When Mr. Wilkey started to become frustrated with the questions, attorney Hudson said, "I'm not trying to get you to remember something that's stressful, but my client is charged criminally with the deaths of your uncle and friend." 

He asked, "Do you not think it's negligent to be in the middle of the navigable channel to be a boat and not see a towboat coming your way?" Mr. Wilkey simply said the crew of the Bearcat were the ones who were negligent.

He said, "At least we had seen them, they never seen us." He told attorney Hudson he would not agree with him on anything. 

Another witness, John Hosley, was a marine investigator with the United States Coast Guard in 2010. He said that while all marine vessels are required by law to have a proper lookout, tugboat pilots can also serve as their own lookout. This choice is left to their discretion and there  is no law requiring a crew member to be at the front of the barge.

The trial will continue Friday morning. 



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