Closing arguments in the the case of a Copperopolis man accused of driving a boat under the influence of alcohol, causing severe injuries to two women on Lake Tulloch on July 24, 2016, stretched into the late afternoon on Friday at the Calaveras County Superior Court, with the jury convening for over two hours to begin their deliberations.
At 5 p.m., the jury, made up of three women and nine men, had not reached a verdict. As they exited out the double-doors of Courtroom 3, many said their goodbyes before they will convene again on Monday at 9 a.m. to continue deliberations.
The trial lasted seven days and featured 20 witnesses, including law enforcement officials from the Calaveras and Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Offices, the occupants of two boats nearly involved in a head-on collision, two severely injured, brain-damaged women, a Department of Justice criminalist, a private investigator and witnesses to both the accident and the alleged intoxicated operation of a vessel by Copperopolis resident Dean Payne.
Payne at times closed his eyes for many seconds during the closing arguments, which began at about 10:30 a.m. Turning in his chair, he stared attentively at a digital presentation by Deputy District Attorney Brad Jones, who reinforced that Payne’s reckless disregard for other boaters deemed him responsible for inflicting life-shattering disabilities on two victims, Racheal Pringle, of Contra Costa, and Robin Tsai, of Walnut Creek, after he crashed into an inner tube they were riding on with his 30-foot cigar boat.
“He’s the one that chugged that beer on the way to shore while the injured women were waiting to be medi-flighted,” Jones said, casting a pointer finger directly at Payne.
“He didn’t care about the rules, he didn’t care about other boats… he didn’t care if he was too intoxicated to drive a boat, he didn’t care if he was going too fast.”
Payne’s attorney, Ken Foley of San Andreas, admitted that the defense would not be disputing that Payne was operating a boat under the influence, indicating to a blood test that identified Payne’s BAC as .238 about two hours after the accident.
But responsibility for the collision, and the subsequent injuries inflicted to the women, he said, lied on the operator of the 22-foot jet ski boat towing the women, Dustin Torrez, who failed to notice Payne’s vessel and performed an incorrect navigational maneuver to avoid a head-on collision.
“This case is about how that happened. How people with precious cargo never looked to see an oncoming boat until it was five yards away. How does that happen?”
Payne was charged with operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol causing great bodily injury and special allegations of inflicting great bodily injury and inflicting great bodily injury by causing a victim to become comatose because of brain injuries for the two victims. The incident took place about 4:45 p.m. on a vertical finger of Lake Tulloch south of the O’Byrnes Ferry Bridge near the Lakes Treatment Center on the Calaveras shoreline.
If Payne is convicted on all counts, he faces up to 20 years in prison.
During his closing arguments, Jones emphasized that Payne created the “whole catastrophic situation” by not only being drunk, but boating at a speed above the Lake Tulloch limit and not performing any evasive maneuvers to avoid the collision.
“He creates this whole emergency by his failure to exercise ordinary care,” Jones said. “He’s like an intoxicated missile on that lake and it was only a matter of time before tragedy takes place.”
Foley countered by stating that statements about the speed of Payne’s cigar boat had been inconsistent from the witnesses throughout the investigation, and further emphasized that Torrez had violated the right-of-way of the cigar boat by performing a left turn to avoid the collision, when maritime law stipulated that the boat should always turn right.
“Words are easy. Throttle is an easy word. If you aren’t wondering what they were doing in that jet boat before the impact, then I have completely not done by job here.”
Further arguing on the special enhancements, Foley stipulated that Payne had not “personally inflicted” the injuries to the victims.
“My client didn’t pull the trigger,” he said. “The other boat did.”
Before and after the closing statements, Judge Susan C. Harlan issued an over hour-long series of jury instructions and tentatively dismissed the four jury alternates, one man, and three women.
The jury began deliberating at about 2:45 p.m.