Celebrity businessman Kevin O’Leary testified at his wife’s trial on Wednesday, saying he did not recall if she had consumed alcohol in the hours before a “chaotic” boat crash that killed two people.
Linda O’Leary has pleaded not guilty to one charge of careless operation of a vessel under the Canada Shipping Act. She was driving the boat when it collided with another vessel at 11:30 p.m. on Aug. 24, 2019 on Lake Joseph, north of Toronto.
The couple and a family friend were returning to their cottage from a dinner party at another cottage when the crash happened.
Read more: Witness describes events leading up to fatal 2019 boat crash involving Linda, Kevin O’Leary
“We just went right into it. It was just a huge surprise,” Kevin O’Leary testified by Zoom from Los Angeles.
He said the other boat was “invisible” until moments before impact. The ski boat the O’Learys were in was travelling at between 14 and 20 (nautical) miles per hour at the time, he testified.
Kevin O’Leary, the former star of the CBC show Dragons’ Den, described the night as dark and moonless, and testified he saw “zero light” coming from the other vessel until after the collision, when he said the lights turned on and it drove away.
“It’s like it had a shroud on it or something,” he testified. “This is just an opinion, but you would have to work very hard to make a boat that size that dark.”
The moments after the crash were “chaotic,” O’Leary repeatedly said. He testified that both he and his wife called out to the other vessel and did not hear a response. He said his immediate focus in the aftermath was on the other passenger in the family’s boat who was bleeding from a head injury.
He said he learned at around 2 a.m. from a police officer that a passenger in the other boat had been killed, and another seriously injured.
Gary Poltash, 64, of Florida, died that night, and Suzana Brito, 48, from Uxbridge, Ont., died in hospital a few days later. Three people were also injured.
The question of whether the other boat, a 16-seat Nautique, had its lights on has been a point of contention in the case. Witnesses on the other boat, including the owner who was charged in the crash with failing to exhibit a navigation light, testified that they remembered some lights being on.
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Court earlier heard testimony from a police officer who said Linda O’Leary registered an “alert range” level of blood alcohol on a breath test taken shortly after the crash. The female officer said Linda O’Leary told her she had only had one drink after the crash.
Kevin O’Leary told the court he does not recall his wife appearing affected by alcohol in the hours before or after the crash, though there were several hours when he was not with her, including at least an hour after the crash when police were speaking with her alone.
He said his wife drove their boat to and from a dinner party that night as she often did as the more experienced boater of the couple. The group decided that afternoon that Linda would be the designated driver, which is “usually how it goes,” O’Leary said.
Wine was served at a 2 p.m. lunch and at the dinner party that started after 7 p.m. at a friend’s cottage across the lake, O’Leary testified. He said he drank alcohol but couldn’t remember if Linda did or not.
Cocktails were also served at the dinner and O’Leary said Linda “might have” consumed one, but “probably a watered down one because she was (the designated driver).”
“She knows if she’s the designated driver, she’s got to be very conscious about consuming alcohol,” he told the court.
A lawyer for the prosecution grilled Kevin O’Leary about whether he talked with his son and his friends, who witnessed the crash from the family’s cottage, about what they saw before giving a statement to police the next day.
Friends of O’Leary’s son told the trial earlier that they saw the lights on the other boat turn on only after the crash.
The prosecution also pointed out inconsistency in O’Leary’s statements to police and to the trial about the speed the boat was travelling. O’Leary said he was basing his speed assessment on the fact that the boat was “planing,” but didn’t have an exact figure.