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First day of trial starts for 2020 Le Claire boating accident

Published: Apr. 13, 2022 at 5:51 PM CDT
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LECLAIRE, Iowa (KWQC) - The trial began Wednesday morning for James Thiel, the 45-year-old Pleasant Valley man facing two counts of involuntary manslaughter for the August 2020 deaths of Craig Verbeke, Anita Pinc and their dog Lily.

In his opening statement, Scott County Attorney Mike Walton told jurors they should find Thiel guilty on all counts.

Walton said Thiel allowed his then 15-year-old son to race his large Triton boat with their friend’s boat near LeClaire, ultimately leading to the fatal collision with Pinc’s small Bayliner boat.

Thiel was reportedly intoxicated at the time, according to Walton.

Defense Attorney Leon Spies told jurors that Thiels’ son was a skilled boat driver and there was no speed limit imposed at the point on the Mississippi River where the collision occurred.

Spies also argued that Verbeke was intoxicated and made a wrong move, turning the Bayliner towards the Triton boat.

Five witnesses were called to the stand after that, including two witnesses who saw the collision from the shore, claiming to see the Triton go at excessive speeds.

“The little boat was almost wanting to get out of the way but didn’t have enough time,” said Antonio Ramirez, one witness, “then next thing I heard was a collision.”

“It was going so fast,” said Jasmine Bassenecker, another witness, “they looked like they were going straight towards that boat.”

Verbeke’s ex-wife Jaimi Drish then took the stand and claimed he was a safe and experienced boat driver, saying “he was a really good boater; he was impressive. He’s taken me out, and always had a third person because he was a rule follower.”

The two other witnesses who testified were Ed Casey, the father of Pinc and owner of the Bayliner boat, and Rachel Webster, Verbeke’s daughter.

Both testified that Verbeke had not drank alcohol while driving a boat in their presence before, and that he was a skilled boat driver.

Thiel’s trial will continue on Thursday, with jurors expected to visit the boat crash site as well as the two boats that crashed.

The trial is expected to last over the next few days.

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