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.


Patten Towers Resident Charged In Wreck That Clogged U.S. 27 On Sunday

A Patten Towers resident is charged in a wreck that clogged the northbound lanes of U.S. 27 on Sunday. Melanie Evette Dobbs, 56, was charged with four counts of reckless endangerment, DUI, failure to maintain lane, violating the Implied Consent Law and failing to have insurance. Police responded to a collision at 9:45 p.m. in which a Dodge Caravan had struck a Kia sedan that ... (click for more)

Lookout Mountain Art Dealer Says Bookkeeper Embezzled Funds

Lookout Mountain art dealer Frank Fowler says in a Chancery Court lawsuit that his bookkeeper embezzled a large amount of funds. The suit was filed against Francine Labbe. Ms. Labbe has been performing accounting, financial reporting and other administrative duties at the Fowler office on Watauga Lane, it was stated. Ms. Labbe, who was paid an annual salary of $72,000, ... (click for more)

White Coat Syndrome And The Medical System - And Response

Today I wish to share what I am feeling as a patient in our medical system. I am too old to put on airs at this point, and this is too pervasive of a problem for me to contain.   As I enter my AARP years, I am faced with so many medical encounters that evoke all kinds of uncomfortable feelings. I dread physician’s appointments riddled with government regulatory hypocrisy, ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Knoxville’s Godsend

Back when we were uppity teenagers, the best put-down when a friend started acting crazy was to say to the heathen, “Quit acting like you are from Knoxville!” I don’t know how the term originated but I can say that back in the day it was pretty insulting to be told you were acting like you were from Knoxville. This week I wish that more of us acted like Knoxville. The Knox County ... (click for more)

Sales' Grand Slam Leads Lady Owls To 6-2 Comeback Win

Cheyenne Sales came close to hitting two home runs on Tuesday. She atoned for those close calls a day later with a grand slam in a five-run fourth inning and powered Ooltewah to a 6-2 victory over gritty East Hamilton in District 5-3A softball action at Jim Lovell Field. “That’s the first grand slam I’ve hit this season,” said Sales, who finished with five RBIs. “The pitch ... (click for more)

Red Bank's Kendall Farr Hurls No-Hitter Against Tyner

Kendall Farr was on the money Wednesday afternoon as she hurled a no-hitter and struck out seven as the Red Bank Lionettes blanked Tyner, 10-0, in six innings. Kelsey Peden and Destiny Painter both had two RBIs for the Lionettes while Hannah Wood had a triple and Sami Shrader a double.  Peden also had a double. With Farr improving to 3-2 on the season,, Red Bank finished ... (click for more)