I-Team

Preliminary hearing underway in boat crash

Tuesday, May 20, 2008
, Chief Investigative Reporter
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Two years after a fatal boat crash on Clear Lake, a preliminary hearing in the manslaughter trial finally began on Tuesday. The defendant is the man who was steering a sailboat when a power boat slammed into it. Is the wrong man being charged? The number two official in the Lake County Sheriff's Department was driving the speedboat that night. But for this hearing, he's just a witness.

Defendant Bismarck Dinius left Lake County Superior Court late on Tuesday afternoon after watching the prosecution lay out the case against him.

"One minute I feel pretty confident, the next minute, not so confident, but it's all uneasy being here reliving that night. It was a horrific night," said boat crash defendant Bismark Dinius.

Prosecutors called their chief witnesses -- Lake County sheriff's deputies who responded to a call from the number two official in the department, Russell Perdock -- saying he had run over a sailboat with his powerboat after 9:00 p.m.

Dispatch: "Central."

Russell Perdock: "Hi, it's Perdock."

Dispatch: "Hello."

Russell Perdock: "I just hit a-Konocti Bay, I was out for a boat ride."

"He told me he had gotten up on a plane and that he estimated that he was going approximately 40 miles an hour," said Dennis Ostini with the Lake County Sheriff's Department.

All five people aboard the sailboat were hurt. Lynn Thornton of Willows died from her injuries.

Investigators didn't focus on Perdock's speed. They quickly targeted Dinius because he was at the helm of the sailboat and appeared to be drinking.

Perdock also told his colleagues the sailboat's lights were off at the time of the crash; a statement repeated by two fishermen who may have seen the sailboat earlier that night.

Lake County prosecutor John Langan: "Did they make any other statement to you indicating the sailboat did not have any running lights on and was barely visible prior to the collision?"

John Gregore with the Lake County Sheriff's Department: "Yes, they did."

The defense tried its best to knock down each of the prosecution's points.

Dinius' Attorney Victor Haltom: "Did you test them, are you sure it was this sailboat as opposed to some other vessel out there?"

John Gregore: "No, I didn't get specific with them, no."

Late on Wednesday, one investigator discussed a witness the I-Team found who says he saw the sailboat's lights turn on as it headed out that night.

"He then said he distinctly recalls the stern light coming on," said Ostini.

The defense took every opportunity to point the finger back at Perdock's speed, including when one deputy discussed interviewing these teenage witnesses who watched the powerboat from shore.

"Over 100 to 200 yards offshore and she said it was going quite fast," said Paul Simpson with the Lake County Sheriff's Department.

All through this, Dinius watched and listened, waiting for Wednesday when the defense begins calling its witnesses.

"I still feel really comfortable that all the facts fall in my favor and I hope once we present our case with our witnesses, that will come to light," said Dinius.

Late on Tuesday afternoon, the I-Team learned that just this past Sunday, a sergeant came forward to say that he was instructed on shore that night not to give a breath test to Russell Perdock. The defense is already saying that's evidence of a cover-up.

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