Warren Luetke Says He Never Saw Fishing Boat Before Collision That Killed 2 Men

Friday, May 16, 2014 - by Hollie Webb

As the criminally negligent homicide trial of Captain Warren Luetke continued into Friday afternoon, Luetke himself testified as a witness, saying, "The only possible explanation is that they were in the blind spot before I took control."

Luetke said that he never once saw the boat or its three passengers who were struck by his towboat, causing the drowning deaths of two men. 

Right before Luetke testified, defense attorney Sam Hudson made a motion for an acquittal.


Attorney Hudson said, "Even viewing the state's evidence at its strongest, they have only proven there was a blind spot...That is all they established is that there was a calculated blind spot at one point, and they thought that was improper." 

However, prosecutor Lance Pope said "Mr. Luetke's failure to observe those people in the navigable channel" was evidence of negligence. Judge Barry Steelman ruled to continue the trial and let the jury decide.

Prior to Luetke's testimony, his second-in-command at the time time of the incident was also called in as a witness.

Will Stevens, now the current captain of the Bearcat, said on that day, he saw people standing in a boat, pointing at men swimming in the water. 

He said, "I just got a bad feeling in my gut that something wasn't right." Mr. Stevens had been involved in a similar accident the year before. Luetke said during his testimony this made him very "cautious."

He said he warned Luetke, but he did not see any sign that there had been a collision. Mr. Stevens told the jury he also had not felt or heard anything to indicate a collision. When inspecting the front of the barges, he said he found a gas can. However, it was noted that this is not uncommon for barges. 

Attorney Hudson said, "Pushing barges down the river collects debris. You've found parts of docks. That doesn't mean you've hit a dock. You've found propane tanks. That doesn't mean you ran over somebody grilling."

He also noted that Mr. Stevens had been in control of the boat before the defendant's shift began. Attorney Hudson pointed out he also had not posted a supplementary lookout on the head of the boat. 

Attorney Hudson said, "You felt you were justified in serving as your own lookout down this particular stretch of the river."

He asked, "He exercised his duties in a professional manner based on your experience as a towboat captain, do you agree?" Mr. Stevens said yes. 

Several other witnesses were also called by the defense, including a friend of the fishing boat survivor David Christopher "Chris" Wilkey.

John Jones was a former coworker of Timothy Spidle, one of the crew members who drowned. Through Mr. Spidle, he met Chris Wilkey. He said, "Tim would come over and Chris would come with him." 

He said that Chris Wilkey did not drink but that he smoked marijuana nearly everyday. He called Mr. Wilkey a "pot head." He said on the day of the collision, Mr. Spidle had been drinking but did not seem intoxicated. However, he said Richard Wilkey was "drunk and passed out."

Another witness, Robert Christoffel, said he had worked on boats for over 30 years. He examined the fishing boat and said, "In my opinion the boat should never have been out on the water." 

He said he observed "lack of maintenance, corroded wires," saying, "I'm surprised the engine was even still running...With a good battery, the engine still would not run."

Closing arguments for the trial will start early Monday morning, after which the jury will start to deliberate.

Partnerships Finding Success Stopping SNAP Fraud

The Tennessee Department of Human Services welcomed its 19th law enforcement partner in an ongoing initiative to fight abuse of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps).  These State Law Enforcement Bureau agreements between the TDHS and agencies give investigators more tools to catch business owners who are fraudulently using another person’s ... (click for more)

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond To Address Hamilton County School Board Tonight

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond will address the Hamilton County School Board and HCDE Officials at their regularly scheduled meeting tonight at 5:30 p.m.   The meeting will take place at the HCDE Board Room, 3074 Hickory Valley Road.   A copy of tonight’s agenda can be found here .  (click for more)

Avoid Underage Drinking And Other Prom Drama

My high school prom took a dramatic turn when two guys got their tuxedo jackets mixed up. One of them belonged to my date, who kindly offered to keep my wallet in his pocket. That’s the jacket another young man mistakenly grabbed off the back of a chair before heading to an underage drinking party that got shut down by police well after midnight—as kids scattered in every direction.  ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Famed Freitas Speech

Several weeks ago a member of the Virginia House of Delegates (that’s what Virginia calls the state legislature) stood up and before that body responded to a claim by a Democratic lawmaker that Republicans were pro-Second Amendment and segregationists. Nick Freitas, who did two tours in Iraq with our Army’s Special Forces and has talked candidly about losing friends to terrorist ... (click for more)

Cleveland State Baseball Tops Piedmont College JV In Doubleheader

Cleveland State baseball took on Piedmont College's JV squad in a doubleheader  on Wednesday . The Cougars swept the Lions, winning game one by a score of 10-3 and game two by a score of 9-3. Ryan Inches was on the mound for the Cougars in game one, pitching 6 innings allowing 2 earned runs while striking out 6. Inches received the win, moving his record to 5-1 on the ... (click for more)

Lee Lacrosse Wins 17-12 Over Montevallo

The Lee lacrosse team exacted some revenge after an earlier season loss to Montevallo in winning their first home conference game 17-12 over the Falcons on a windy and cold Wednesday afternoon at the South Quad Field.   "We have been working hard all week preparing for this rematch with Montevallo. The girls put a lot of time and energy into correcting the little mistakes ... (click for more)