By Cam Fortems
Kamloops This Week
Travelling on the blackness of Shuswap Lake more than five years ago, Leon Reinbrecht piloted his speedboat too fast, wasn’t looking for hazards and did not follow a consistent course when he struck a houseboat, killing its operator, a B.C. Supreme Court justice ruled.
Justice Sheri Donegan found Leon Reinbrecht guilty on Tuesday of criminal negligence causing death and criminal negligence causing bodily harm in connection with the July 3, 2010 crash in Magna Bay that left houseboat operator Ken Brown dead at the scene and at least five other people injured.
The resulting impact from the crash following post-Canada Day fireworks on the lake resulted in Reinbrecht’s boat coming to a stop inside the houseboat.
Reinbrecht’s defence lawyers suggested the Crown had not proven Reinbrecht was piloting his speedboat dangerously, suggesting instead Brown was at fault because his houseboat was not properly lit and he was intoxicated.
But Donegan agreed with Crown prosecutors Camille Cook and Neil Flanagan that there is ample evidence Reinbrecht’s “joyride” that night — after he dropped off several passengers on shore and returned for a nighttime cruise at speeds between 30 and 40 m.p.h. (48 to 64 km/h), cutting doughnuts and zig-zagging — was reckless and endangered the safety of his passengers and others.
“It constitutes a pattern of wanton or reckless behaviour that amounts to a marked and substantial departure from the standard of care of a reasonably prudent operator in the circumstances,” Donegan said.
Brown’s sister, Patty Oliver, said the verdict comes as a relief after more than five years of awaiting justice.
“We all knew in our minds he was guilty,” said Oliver, who watched the trial that spanned 30 days of trial time over six months.
“It wasn’t intentional. It was just stupid.”
Oliver said family and friends, along with people who are still injured from the crash, want an acknowledgement from Reinbrecht.
“You made a mistake,” she said. “Own up to what you did.”
However, it’s not clear if Donegan’s ruling is the last word for Reinbrecht.
Defence lawyer Joe Doyle earlier filed a Charter application, putting the court on notice he reserves the right to challenge any conviction based on unreasonable delays. He told Donegan he will take instruction from Reinbrecht whether he wants to continue that application, which has yet to be heard.
The trial heard from more than 50 witnesses, many of whom were on shore or aboard a boat that night. The crash happened after boat traffic on the lake had thinned out, about 11:15 p.m. Brown was piloting a straight course at a moderate speed toward home.
While Donegan acknowledged Brown was impaired by drugs and alcohol at the time of the crash, she ruled there was nothing he could have done to prevent the nearly head-on collision.
She also found his houseboat’s green and red navigational lights and a stern light were visible, as was an interior cabin light.
“In my view, the evidence proves that Mr. Brown had no chance to react to the motorboat as it approached… Only seconds passed between the motorboat’s last joyriding manoeuvre and its impact with the houseboat.”
The B.C. Supreme Court justice found Reinbrecht had just completed a u-turn and was accelerating back up to 30 m.p.h. (48 km/h) — looking back at his passenger — when his boat slammed into Brown’s houseboat.
“There is no question in my mind that Mr. Reinbrecht’s conduct is sufficient to support the conclusion he bears the necessary moral responsibility,” Donegan ruled.
A conviction of criminal negligence causing death carries with it a maximum sentence of life in prison.