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Eyewitness changes statement about which boat was at fault in LeClaire boat crash trial

Published: Apr. 14, 2022 at 5:21 PM CDT
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LECLAIRE, Iowa (KWQC) - An interesting twist came during the second day of trial for James Thiel, 45, of Pleasant Valley, who is charged with two counts of manslaughter in the August 2020 boat crash deaths of Craig Verbeke and Dr. Anita Pinc.

Scott County Prosecutor Mike Walton says Thiel’s Triton boat, which his 15-year-old son was driving at the time, caused the fatal crash when it veered into the way of Verbeke and Dr. Pinc’s Bayliner.

However, an eyewitness that the prosecution called to testify told the defense on the stand that she may have seen the Bayliner cause the crash instead, contrary to her previous statements.

Cain had originally told Walton that she was in the parking lot with her husband watching boats on the river when they observed the Triton driving at high speed.

“When they went past us we said, ‘oh my god he’s gonna hit him,’” said Cain.

Defense Attorney Leon Spies questioned her statement to the prosecution, stating, “Haven’t you said to law enforcement and on social media that the small boat cut in front of the larger speeding craft, meaning the Triton?”

Spies then handed Cain a copy of her social media post, asking, “does that help you remember what you said on social media?”

“I see that, yes,” replied Cain.

“What did you say on social media?” asked Spies.

“I said the small boat cut in front of the larger speeding boat,” said Cain.

“Did you tell [law enforcement] that the smaller boat turned into the path of the bigger boat?” Spies asked.

Cain agreed, “he turned into the path of the boat.”

“The bigger boat?” asked Spies. “Yes,” Cain replied.

The turn in testimony came after the court was shown an 18 minute-long video of body camera footage from the scene of the accident which was taken by another witness called to the stand by the prosecution, former LeClaire police officer Skylar Mitchell, one of the first to respond.

The majority of the footage was muted except for a few moments in which Thiel is shown talking to Mitchell on the boat docks.

“We were coming down the river an all the sudden, out of nowhere, this boat turns left into us,” said Thiel in the body camera video, “and I’m sitting at the helm with my son, who is 15, and he has boater license and we’re legal as can be, and he’s like, ‘Dad! Dad’ and I said, ‘shut it down shut it down!’ And he comes and he hits us, and I’m on the right side and he knocks me out of the boat.”

In his original statements, Thiel claimed the Triton was hit by the Bayliner.

Prosecution, however, says Thiel’s Triton was the cause of the crash.

Thiel has been accused of allowing his son to race his Triton on the day of the crash, and was intoxicated.

Another first responder, Derrick Slutts, who is a conservation officer, was called to the stand to testify about the alcohol consumption.

“I could smell the odor of the consumed beverage coming from his mouth,” Slutts said, “I don’t recall him asking about the victims at any point throughout the night.”

On Wednesday, the first day of the trial, two eye witnesses testified that they saw the Thiel’s Triton go at excessive speeds and hit the Bayliner.

All three eyewitnesses said they observed the crash from a distance.

The trial is expected to continue tomorrow and into next week.

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