Linda O’Leary had alcohol on her breath after a deadly boat crash that killed two people on a Muskoka lake this summer, according to recently unsealed court documents filed in the case.
Although she blew “an alert” in a breath test conducted that night, indicating previous alcohol consumption, Ms. O’Leary – wife of reality TV star Kevin O’Leary – told police that it was only after she’d returned to her cottage following the fatal crash that she’d had a drink of vodka.
She was driving her Cobalt speedboat, with her husband and another woman on board, around 11:30 p.m. on Aug. 24, when they crashed into another boat on Lake Joseph, southeast of Parry Sound in Ontario’s cottage country.
Two people on that boat, Gary Poltash, 64, from Florida, and Susanne Brito, 48, from Uxbridge, Ont., both suffered severe head trauma and died.
Ms. O’Leary has been charged with careless operation of a vessel under the Canada Shipping Act. Dr. Richard Ruh, the driver of the other boat, has been charged with failing to exhibit a navigation light while under way.
Mark Sandler, a lawyer for Dr. Ruh, said in an e-mail on Wednesday that his client plans to “vigorously contest the regulatory allegation,” but declined to comment otherwise.
Brian Greenspan, a lawyer for Ms. O’Leary, described the crash as a “tragic accident” that “had nothing to do with alcohol.”
“Linda O’Leary was not impaired; she is a highly experienced boater who was proceeding cautiously with due care and attention,” he said in an e-mail statement on Wednesday. “She collided with a totally unlit boat on a moonless night which was invisible to any prudent operator. No one could have avoided the collision."
Mr. Poltash and Ms. Brito had been part of a group gathered for a dinner party at the home of Dr. Irv Edwards, according to the court documents, relating to search warrants filed in the case. After dark, the group of 12 had headed out onto the lake to stargaze on Dr. Edwards’s new boat (which Dr. Ruh took control over, a short distance from shore).
According to court documents, the boat was adrift with its engine and navigational lights off, when Ms. O’Leary – who had also been at a dinner party that night and was returning home – hit them.
One of the surviving passengers on the victims’ boat told police she had heard a boat coming and saw it was going to hit them, but “it was too late to do anything about it.”
Although she and another woman on the victims’ boat told police their boat was lit at the time, the court documents say that security camera footage provided by both the O’Learys and Dr. Edwards showed that while the boat did initially have its lights on, the navigational lights had been shut off a short time after it pulled away from shore.
After the crash, there was a brief exchange between the two boats – strangers in the dark, at this stage – before Dr. Edwards and his friends, recognizing that two people on board had been badly injured, headed to a nearby resort to seek medical attention.
The O’Learys returned to their cottage. There, their son called 911 to report that his parents had been in a boating accident and requested an ambulance. Ms. O’Leary and her female passenger received treatment in hospital and were released.
Although the documents did not specify Ms. O’Leary’s blood alcohol concentration at the time of the breath test, they did say that she received a three-day suspension – a penalty that typically applies in Ontario when a person’s blood alcohol level is between 0.05 per cent and 0.08 per cent.
Although federal prosecutors originally said Ms. O’Leary could face jail time if convicted, they have since corrected that assessment to say the maximum penalty would be a fine of $10,000.
A wrongful-death lawsuit has been filed by relatives of Ms. Brito, seeking $2-million in damages from the O’Learys, as well as Dr. Ruh and Dr. Edwards.
The case will be back up in Parry Sound court on Jan. 16.
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