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Last updated on Friday, June 8, 2012
(BLOOMINGTON) - After about five hours of deliberation Thursday, a jury of 11 women and one man found Winston Wood guilty of leaving the scene of a June 2010 boating accident that killed a grandmother, one of her grandsons and injured a man’s leg.
Wood, 21, of Bloomington, was found guilty of two counts of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death and one count of leaving the scene of an accident causing serious bodily injury.
Wood could face a jail term of two to eight years for each of the two charges of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death and six months to three years on the charge causing serious bodily injury. The charges may also carry $10,000 in fines each.
In the June 28, 2010 accident on Lake Monroe, Wood's Cobalt ski boat and a Ranger bass boat, driven by James "Rusty" Collier of Bedford, collided. The crash killed Collier's wife, Susan, and their 8-year-old grandson Gage Pruett. The crash also injured one of Collier's legs.
Gage's two triplet brothers, Dillion and J.T., survived the crash.
After the verdict, Gage's father, Lenny Pruett stood with family members, friends and supporters outside of the Zietlow Justice Center about 8 p.m. Thursday. "It's not going to bring him back," he said through tears. "But I do hope it helps my other two boys understand right from wrong."
James Collier testified Tuesday that no one in Wood's boat helped him, and Wood sped away from the scene of the crash, even after he specifically screamed for help in saving his wife from the water.
In a recorded interview with police on July 7, 2010, Wood reported he remembered screaming at Collier, "You (expletive) hit us" after he dove in the water and found a woman who was injured beyond his help.
Defense attorney Jim Voyles in closing statements Thursday told the jury Wood's case has a "defense of necessity" in an event of an emergency.
"If it's criminal, but necessary for the greater good. The law excuses your conduct," Voyles said.
In 44 years of practice, Voyles said, he could not recall describing the defense of necessity to a jury before: "It is a unique, almost biblical concept the law says that provides us with a opportunity to excuse people for the greater good."
Voyles argued that when Wood sped from the scene he acted on the "good faith belief" that the act necessary was to prevent greater harm. The young men on the speed boat called 911, asked for professional help after being in a horrific boating accident and feared that something was wrong with their boat and that it was taking on water.
"His actions themselves scream the fact that he did not act in good faith. His actions are not the actions of a Boy Scout." Monroe County chief deputy prosecutor Bob Miller said during the rebuttal of closing statements.
"What did Winston Wood accomplish by leaving the scene, save the boat?"
Accident reconstructionists determined that Wood's boat was not in danger of sinking.
Under Indiana state boating accident law a boater involved in an accident is to do the following things: stop the boat immediately and as close as possible to the scene of the accident; return to the scene of the crash, and remain there until the operator has complied with this section of the law; give the operator's name and address, full identification of the boat operated, and the name and address of the owner to the operator of each other boat and person injured; and upon request, exhibit the operator's license to the operator.
The law also reads that a boater involved in an accident is to provide reasonable assistance to each person injured, including carrying or arranging for carrying each injured person to a physician, surgeon or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent that treatment is necessary or the injured person so requests.
"You don't get to take off and then decide to call 911," Miller argued.
Wood's friend and a passenger on the boat, Michael Marietta, testified he made the 911 call, after Wood used his phone to call his father first.
That call was played to jurors on Tuesday, and Marietta testified on Wednesday that he didn't know a woman was dead until Wood told him when they docked at Fourwinds.
A duty to render or arrange for aid doesn't happen "By calling 911 when you've already left the scene and failed to reveal that you're aware of possible injuries and fatality," Miller said.
The 911 call was simply not enough, Miller argued. "Not at all. They needed to stay there and make sure that help was on its way before they even thought about leaving that scene."
Wood, or the others, did not throw Collier a rope while he was in the water. They did not toss him an inflatable tube from the back of Wood's ski boat. They did not pluck him from the lake. They did not ask if the two other children were OK.
Rendering aid is not swimming to a woman, realizing she's dead, and swimming back, Miller said.
"What an unimaginable horror to be placed in that position. To see your grandson's body in the boat that way...and then to fish his wife out with similar issues," Miller said in his closing statements. "And yet, when he gets there and makes the 911 call, he is stoic. He's heroic in a lot of ways," he said of Collier after playing the call to 911 to jurors.
After receiving its instructions, jurors began deliberation at 1:40 p.m. As people cleared from the courtroom, a Wood hugged a young woman. He was crying.
Morgan County Judge Jane Spencer Craney presided over the trial until about noon, when Monroe County Judge Marc Kellams took over.
Craney was involved in a car accident Thursday morning, held an ice pack to the back of her neck through most of the morning, and decided to leave for the hospital about noon.
Wood's sentencing will be scheduled by Craney, Kellams said after the guilty verdict was announced.
Thursday morning, the defense called its first witness to the stand - Matthew Holmberg was wakeboarding behind the Cobalt ski boat Wood was driving at the time of the accident.
During a cross-examination by Miller, Holmberg admitted he lied to police during his first interview with authorities several hours after the accident.
"You lied to them, didn't you?" Miller asked.
"Ah, yes," Holmberg replied.
Miller said that Holmberg did not initially tell police about the dead woman in the water, that Wood dove into the water and swam to this woman after the crash.
Holmberg said that was correct.
"In that first interview you repeatedly denied seeing anyone hurt or injured? Didn't you tell police that if you had known if someone were hurt or injured ... you would have not let Winston Wood leave the scene?" Miller asked Holmberg, before showing a three-second video clip of Holmberg's first interview at the Monroe County Sheriff's Office.
"I looked at the boat, I didn't see anything," Holmberg said in that police video. "If I would have saw a body on the ground or in the water, I would have told him, no we're not leaving."
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