Accused in fatal boat collision testifies he was sober, focused

By Mike Youds
Daily News Staff Reporter
June 22, 2012

The man who was piloting a powerboat when it plowed into Copper Island testified in his own defence Friday, saying he was sober, focused and attentive when he took control of the vessel.

Todd Kerr, 43, was charged with dangerous driving causing death and injury after the August 2008 accident, which claimed the life of Pattie Lynn McKenna, 24.

Kerr, a Lower Mainland resident, told the court that he towed the boat to Shuswap Lake that B.C. Day long weekend because the owner, Jason Baird, his friend at the time, did not have a driver’s licence.

Of the two, Kerr was the more experienced in handling watercraft. He was raised around boats and obtained his master scuba certificate in 1993. He went on to receive training in various aspects of marine operation, though that didn’t include training in collision avoidance or navigational beacons. He had used beacons for day and night navigation on the water in the past.

“No problems,” he replied under examination by defence lawyer James Sutherland. “I’ve never had difficulty.” He’d been to Shuswap Lake twice before.

That night, however, was particularly dark. After nightfall, Baird wanted to take the boat to Blind Bay to pick up two friends. Kerr said he didn’t want Baird to go alone, so he joined him. Another friend, Jennifer Jankowski, also went along.

Due to the darkness and a lack of familiarity with the lake, they had difficulty finding the bay, but eventually honed in on a marina and picked up the two women. At one point, Baird asked Kerr to take the wheel since he was having trouble seeing.

Jankowski testified Tuesday that a heated argument ensued when they left the marina on their return trip to the houseboat they were staying in, which was moored on the beach. Baird wanted to go in one direction, Kerr in the other.

But Kerr said there was no heated argument. He said he powered down the vessel to talk. Baird was mistaken in his direction, he testified. Kerr stayed with his northeast heading “because that was the way we came.”

It was also the safest route, he said. He used the beacons in Blind Bay to navigate out into the main channel. He said he had no doubt about the direction he should take.

“Did you feel you’d lost situational awareness?” Sutherland asked, referring to expert witness testimony given earlier.

“Not at all,” Kerr said. He said he didn’t increase his speed past the point where the boat was planning.

Soon after, Baird went below deck with one of the female passengers to escape the night chill.

McKenna followed them, said Kerr, who was overcome by emotion in the courtroom, having to recall the circumstances.

A violent collision with the island occurred not long after.

Kerr told Justice Robert Powers that his memory of events after the crash is spotty. He suffered severe facial lacerations, a broken nose broken ribs and broken scapula.

From hospital in Salmon Arm, Kerr was released into police custody. After sitting in a cell for 12 hours, he was taken by police to RIH, where he spent five days and underwent surgery for two facial fractures.

Crown cross-examination and final submissions are scheduled to take place Monday.

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