A Central Saanich boater who seriously injured three members of a family when he crashed into their boat in Tod Inlet has been convicted of three counts of dangerous operation of a motor vessel causing bodily harm.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Power found the way Michael Gettle operated his power boat was a marked departure from the standard of care of a reasonable person in the circumstances.
“I conclude, based on Mr. Gettle’s own evidence, that he was operating his boat in a manner that was dangerous. … Mr. Gettle’s operation of the motor vessel was an accident waiting to happen,” Power said Wednesday.
“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.”
Because of uncertainty in some of the evidence, Power acquitted the 50-year-old 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, when boaters were leaving the area after watching the Butchart Gardens fireworks.
Crown witness Gary Rogers testified that the water traffic was “horrendous” because of the large number of boats all wanting to leave 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 that he heard a motor boat gunning its engine and coming up to a high rate of speed and tried to get the operator to stop. Graham estimated there were 25 boats in the area when he heard the collision.
Brent Henderson, a 32-year veteran of the RCMP 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 only safe way to leave the area was dead slow or at the lowest speed possible to have the engine engaged,” Power said.
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 per hour to be on plane.
Power did not accept the evidence of defence witness Candina Collard. She testified that just before the crash, Hart said “Watch this,” then stood up and leaned across Gettle and the boat sped up. Power was concerned Collard only described the collision in those terms in her third statement to police.
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 per hour. She found as fact that it would have to be going 32 to 40 kilometres per hour to go on plane.
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,” said the judge. “By travelling on plane, he was travelling in a manner that was dangerous.”
All four passengers on Gettle’s boat were thrown into the water. Gettle was trapped under his boat.
“It is only a result of good luck and quick thinking of rescuers that someone was not killed or more seriously injured,” said Power.
Defence lawyer Ryan Drury asked the court to order a report to assist with sentencing. The report is expected to take up to eight weeks.
The maximum sentence for dangerous operation of a motor vessel causing bodily harm is 10 years. A conditional sentence is not available.