Boater who injured three gets jail on weekends

A Central Saanich boater who seriously injured three members of a family when he crashed into their boat in Tod Inlet after the Butchart Gardens fireworks has been allowed to serve a 90-day jail sentence on weekends.

Michael Gettle is prohibited from driving a boat for 10 years and, following his jail sentence, will be on probation for 18 months.

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In May, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Power convicted Gettle of three counts of dangerous operation of a motor vessel causing bodily harm. She acquitted Gettle on three counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm to Earl, Anne and Brent Henderson.

The crash happened about 10 p.m. on Aug. 1, 2015, as boaters were leaving the area after watching the Butchart Gardens fireworks.

The Crown sought a 12-month jail sentence. Defence lawyer Ryan Drury asked for the intermittent sentence, followed by probation.

Power found the intermittent sentence appropriate because of Gettle’s role as a caregiver to his spouse, who has a degenerative spinal disease.

She noted a period of straight time would be a hardship for Gettle’s family, that he expressed remorse and might also be facing civil consequences.

The Hendersons have life-altering and ongoing injuries, Power said. It was only good luck that no one was killed that night, she said.

“Mr. Gettle’s operation of the motor vessel was an accident waiting to happen,” Power said in May. “Mr. Gettle’s decision to put his boat on plane in order to see over the bow is inexplicable to me, given his knowledge of boat traffic in the area and his knowledge of boating. He should have been proceeding dead slow, as noted by many of the witnesses.”

Operating a boat on plane occurs when the speed is sufficient to cause lift to increase and the boat, in effect, rides over its bow wave.

Crown witness Gary Rogers testified water traffic was “horrendous” because of the large number of boats leaving the inlet at the same time.

Crown witness Phil Graham said Tod Inlet was crowded with smaller vessels and “a ton of kayaks.” He testified he heard a motor boat gunning its engine and coming up to a high rate of speed and that he tried to get the operator to stop. Graham estimated there were 25 boats in the area when he heard the collision.

Brent Henderson, who was badly injured in the crash, testified that he and his father had two bow lights on and were keeping a lookout to avoid kayaks and canoes. He heard the sound of an engine, turned around and shouted a warning just before the crash.

Crown witness Kent Lindahl testified that he saw the boat on plane, going about 32 to 40 kilometres per hour, making no attempt to slow down or avoid collision.

Power accepted this evidence and concluded boating conditions that night were hazardous.

The judge also accepted the evidence of witness Wayne Hart, who had been driving Gettle’s boat earlier that day. Hart testified that the boat would have to be going 32 to 48 kilometres an hour to be on plane.

The judge accepted Gettle’s evidence in part — that he increased his speed and put the boat on plane as it left the area. But she found he minimized the hazard posed by the heavy boat traffic, especially the canoes and kayaks without lights.

She did not believe Gettle’s evidence that the boat went on plane at 10 to 15 kilometres an hour.

Power wasn’t sure if something else happened to distract Gettle.

“Even if an unforeseen incident occurred on the boat, Mr. Gettle should have been in a position to respond to it,” she said.

“By travelling on plane, he was travelling in a manner that was dangerous.”

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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