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Court appearance in fatal boat crash case

Friday, August 31, 2007
, Chief Investigative Reporter
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The man charged in a fatal boat crash involving a top sheriff's department official made his first court appearance Friday. His lawyer claims prosecutors have charged the wrong man to protect one of their own. So he's asking a judge to remove the district attorney from the case.

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"Oh, it's a very tumultuous year, I mean, it's pretty much put my life on hold," said Bismarck Dinius who has been charged with manslaughter.

This past year has been a nightmare for Bismarck Dinius. Last April, he and four friends were drifting in a sailboat on Clear Lake after sunset when a powerboat driven by the number two man in the Lake County Sheriff's Department slammed into them. Fifty-one-year-old Lynn Thornton of Willows died from her injuries. Prosecutors are charging Dinius with manslaughter, claiming he failed to turn on the sailboat's running lights and with boating under the influence.

"I'm shocked. I'm shocked that I've been first of all, charged, and second of all, be the only one charged, a lot of parties involved here," said Dinius.

Dinius pleaded not guilty Friday afternoon in Lake County Superior Court and the judge took up a defense motion to remove Lake County prosecutors from the case. Defense Attorney Victor Haltom accuses the local sheriff and district attorney of failing to perform a fair and impartial investigation.

He says Chief Deputy Sheriff Russell Perdock should be the one facing charges because the sailboat's lights were on and Perdock was driving his powerboat at night fast enough to cause this amount of damage.

"They've made a charging decision which seems irrational. A charging decision which in my opinion is clearly calculated to deflect blame off of Chief Deputy Perdock and onto my client," said Victor Haltom, defense attorney for Dinius.

"If anything, we've tried to err on the side of caution, as far as giving Mr. Dinius the benefit of the doubt," said Dave McKillop, Lake County Deputy District Attorney.

The judge sided with prosecutors and the state attorney general's office -- they would have taken over the case, but submitted an opinion with the court that the matter should remain with local authorities.

"The district attorney is elected by each county to prosecute the crimes in the county, no defendant, whether he believes the case against him is strong or weak, no defendant is entitled to pick his prosecutor," said Senior Assistant Attorney General Gerald Engler.

It was not a good day for Bismarck Dinius.

"It looks like they're hell bent on putting me away for this crime and that concerns me a great deal," said Dinius.

There's an entirely different playing field for this case with lawsuits filed by everyone on the two boats. And it appears as though those lawsuits will be settled before the criminal case is over.

The state attorney general's office has agreed to review the investigation performed by the Lake County Sheriff's Office. That report should be finished in about six weeks.

Related Links:
<< A Very Small World << Sailboat: Lights On Or Off? << Fatal Boat Crash Lawsuits

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