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Last updated on Wednesday, June 6, 2012
(BLOOMINGTON) - James Collier was the first witness to take the stand Tuesday morning in the trial of Winston Wood who is accused of leaving the scene of a fatal boating accident on Lake Monroe.
Abby Tonsing of the Herald Times reports that Collier told the jury that "the light just went out" and he found himself floating on his back in the water. Collier was on a bass boat with his wife and grandsons when the boats collided.
He recalled three people at the front of the ski boat Wood was driving, leaning over. One of the young men, who Collier identified in the courtroom as Wood, was screaming, he said.
Collier said he called for help several times. "There was no response from the other boat or any individual in the boat," he said.
After he had climbed back into his own boat, Collier testified, he hollered to the other boat, to Wood, to help save his wife.
"He said, 'Where is she?' He did not realize there is anyone injured," Collier testified.
"There was no misconception," Collier said. He had locked eyes with Wood.
Once the young men saw Collier's wife floating in the water, Collier reported Wood said, "You save her yourself," before taking the boat to full throttle and heading east.
Collier's wife, Susan, 51, and his 8-year-old grandson Gage Pruett were killed in the June 28, 2010, crash. Gage's two triplet brothers survived the accident.
Collier's testimony underlined the opening statement by Monroe County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Bob Miller.
"You save her yourself," Miller told the jurors as the trial opened. "That is what the defendant Winston Wood shouted to James Collier just before he sped away from the scene of a horrible boating accident - 'You save her yourself.'"
Representing Wood, defense attorney Fred Vaiana said in his opening statement: "The case is about whether or not Winston Wood left the scene of an accident resulting injury or death." Vaiana said his client jumped in the water, turned over Susan Collier's body and immediately realized she was dead before getting back into his own boat, which he thought was sinking.
"So he's faced with a dead body, a boat he believes is sinking, he sees Rusty Collier swimming back to his boat," Vaiana said. "He decides they need help, they need to call for help," so they headed back to the marina to secure their own boat and call 911.
21-year-old Wood is charged with two counts of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death and one count of leaving the scene of an accident causing injury.
Wood was driving his father's ski boat the evening of June 28, 2010, when it collided with a bass boat on the south end of the lake, between the dam and Fourwinds marina.
A blood test showed Winston had marijuana in his system.
In his opening, Miller described how Collier, after being knocked into the water, found his dead wife, floating face down between the two boats, Miller said.
The two boys still in the boat told their grandfather that Gage had died. So an injured Collier treading water, climbed into the back of his boat, and covered the dead child with a raincoat, before covering the two other boys with another raincoat so they wouldn't see.
"He only heard the defendant yelling about the damage to his boat, not his cries for help," Miller said.
The trail is expected to last the week.
If convicted, Wood could face a jail term of two to eight years for the two charges of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death and six months to three years on the other charge.
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