The driver of a speedboat on trial in a fatal crash on Lake Murray admitted to drinking eight beers that day but denied he was intoxicated at the time of the crash.
Tracy Gordon, 57, maintained that he did not see a pontoon boat until until he was right on top of it.
“It would be dangerous to drink six beers and drive home?” Deputy 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Goldberg, who is prosecuting the case, asked during a probing cross examination.
”Yes, it could be, depending on what you’re drinking.” Gordon said.
Stan Kiser was killed in the crash, which the pathologist who performed the autopsy called the worst she’d seen in her career. His wife, Shawn, had a leg amputated and his daughter, Morgan, suffered head injuries.
Gordon is charged with reckless homicide by operation of a boat and three counts of boating under the influence. His testimony in the Richland County Courthouse comes nearly four years to the day after the fatal crash.
Gordon was the fourth witness called by the defense and the fourteenth called overall as the trial extended into its second week on Monday. Gordon, a manager at a dog food manufacturing plant, is being represented by veteran defense attorneys Joe McCulloch and Jack Swerling.
On the stand, both Gordon and his wife, Angie, who testified last week, admitted that they had drunk light beers throughout the day of Sept. 21, 2019. Following the crash, investigators also found a cooler with nine unopened cans of Natural Light beer — the couple’s preferred brand.
But Gordon has described himself as a “light drinker” who stuck to light beer with the rare exception of a glass of wine with the salmon he and his wife prepared every Friday night for their date night.
“I’m not a big drinker. I’ve never been a big drinker,” Gordon told the court. “We have a regimen. We don’t do a lot.”
Whatever normalcy created by that regimen was shattered when, after a day on the lake, Gordon’s 24-foot Baja Outlaw speedboat collided with the Kisers’ a pontoon boat around 9 p.m.. The crash happened just outside of the “no-wake zone” near the Rusty Anchor restaurant and its sister venue, Catfish Johnny’s.
The Gordons were on their way home after a last minute deviation from their routine to try to watch a Clemson football game and a live band at the Rusty Anchor, where Gordon drank his eighth beer, a Coors Light, according to testimony.
The sun was fully set and the night was “pitch black,” Gordon said. “It was darker than a normal night. I don’t recall any light from stars, moon or nothing.”
Gordon said that he had increased the boat’s speed to half throttle to get the boat to ride flat on the water as he drove up the right side of the channel, and denied cutting in front of another boat, driven by Paul Catoe, who testified last week.
By the time he saw the Kisers’ pontoon boat, it was just 15 yards away and he was too close to stop. He has said he never saw the pontoon boat’s lights.
“It was just like it was right there,” Gordon said. “I jerked the wheel, that’s all I had time to do.”
Immediately following the crash, Gordon, who said that he’d never been in any kind of crash before, said there was silence.
“I’m sitting here wondering how this happened,” Gordon told the jury, describing himself as a very safe boater who’d never been in any kind of crash.
Then came screams. “Over and over and over,” Gordon said.
Goldberg and Assistant Solicitor Carter Potts, who are prosecuting the case, have questioned other witnesses about the Gordons’ decision not to assist the Kisers, Tracy Gordon’s failing parts of his field sobriety tests and his apparent indifference in interactions with law enforcement.
But Gordon said that the accident left him in shock. “I mean I don’t know what happened. I went through a traumatic experience as well,” Gordon said.
Defense witnesses say Gordon did not appear intoxicated
Defense attorneys brought forward a battery of experts to argue that Gordon was not under the influence of alcohol.
The evidence of experts and eyewitnesses will be crucial because Judge Heath Taylor ruled that the state would not be allowed to present evidence of Gordon’s blood alcohol content that was obtained following a court order
Taylor ruled that because state Department of Natural Resources officers failed to sign an affidavit that accompanied a warrant for obtaining a blood sample from Gordon, the evidence was invalid.
Two managers of the Rusty Anchor and Catfish Johnny’s restaurants, where the Gordon said he had and his wife had one beer each before the fatal crash, testified that the couple did not appear to be drunk.
“They didn’t show any signs of intoxication,” said Catherine Reedy, 34, one of the restaurant’s managers who helped the couple place their drink orders. “I didn’t have any issues with my staff serving them that night.”
The eyewitnesses were supported by lengthy testimony from James Bradley, a former South Carolina Highway Patrol officer who taught field sobriety examinations at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy.
While he conceded that the determination was best made by the officer at the scene, Bradley said he found “no indications of impairment,” basing his views on a review of body camera footage and surveillance footage, as well as reports completed by law enforcement officers. But Bradley said his analysis was hindered by a lack of notes taken at the scene by law enforcement.
DNR officers who responded to the scene felt that there were enough “clues,” or indicators, that Gordon was intoxicated to arrest him.
Defense attorneys have also alleged that the chaotic scene on the lake shore on the night of the crash could have influenced Gordon’s responses on the sobriety field exercises.
“Do distractions play a role in every one of these field exercises?” McCulloch asked.
“They definitely could, yes sir,” said Bradley.