Jury selection begins in boat crash trial

Posted Sept. 08, 2008, at 8:55 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Jury selection resumes today in the manslaughter trial of a Massachusetts man charged in a fatal boating crash last summer on Long Lake in Harrison.

Robert LaPointe of Medway, Mass., is accused of being legally drunk and using excessive speed when his 32-foot boat equipped with twin 435-horsepower engines ran over a 14-foot craft, killing its two occupants.

On Monday, Cumberland County Superior Court Justice Robert Crowley ruled that pretrial publicity had not caused a “climate of hostility” against LaPointe. The ruling was made in response to a defense motion seeking to delay the trial and change its location.

As part of the same motion, Crowley was expected to decide whether enough impartial jurors could be found to seat a jury. Prospective jurors Monday were given questionnaires to fill out, and the questioning process to select the final jury began in the afternoon.

Once a jury is seated, the trial is expected to last more than a week.

The case against LaPointe stems from a spectacular crash the night of Aug. 11, 2007, on the lake in southwestern Maine.

Prosecutors say LaPointe’s blood alcohol content was 0.11 three hours after his boat slammed into the smaller boat, killing Terry Raye Trott, 55, of Naples and Suzanne Groetzinger, 44, of Berwick. The legal blood alcohol limit for operating a motor vehicle in Maine is 0.08.

LaPointe’s attorneys were expected to argue that the blood test was unreliable and that Trott was operating his boat without lights.

The collision sliced the smaller boat in half and threw LaPointe and his passenger, Nicole Randall, a 19-year-old family friend from Bridgton, into the water. They were able to swim safely to shore.

LaPointe later was charged with two counts of manslaughter, four counts of aggravated operating under the influence and one count of reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon. He is free on $50,000 bail.

In a previous motion on LaPointe’s behalf, the judge sided with the defense in ruling that an emergency 911 tape recorded moments after the Aug. 11, 2007, crash will not be heard by jurors.

Crowley also agreed that prosecutors can’t mention that LaPointe twice refused to give a blood sample after the crash, until he was forced to do so by a game warden.

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