A trial has begun for Linda O’Leary — the wife of celebrity businessman Kevin O’Leary — who is charged in a boat crash that killed two people on Lake Joseph in August 2019.
On Monday morning, Linda O’Leary pleaded not guilty to one charge of careless operation of a vessel under the Canada Shipping Act in connection with the incident. An agreed statement of facts read in court said she was driving the O’Leary vessel when the two boats collided the night of Aug. 24, 2019.
Gary Poltash, 64, from Florida, died at the scene, while Suzana Brito, 48, from Uxbridge, Ont., died in hospital a few days later. Both were on a boat that was owned by Irv Edwards, who was called to the witness stand Monday.
An agreed statement of facts read in court Monday said Poltash died as a result of blunt force trauma to the neck and head and that Brito died as a result of blunt force trauma to the head from being hit by a boat.
Three other people were also injured as a result of the crash.
On Monday, Edwards testified his friend and cottage neighbour Richard Ruh was at the helm of the boat at the time of the crash. He told the court he asked Ruh to take over driving on the night of Aug. 24, 2019, so he could look at the stars. In the cross-examination, Edwards added there was no moon that night and he found navigating the landmarks “more difficult.” He also said Ruh knows boats “much longer” and “better” than he does.
On Aug. 24, 2019, Edwards said he hosted the Ruhs and their guests from Buffalo, N.Y., for dinner, along with Edwards’ cousin, his cousin’s girlfriend Brito and Edwards’ best friend Poltash. The dinner began at about 7:30 p.m., Edwards said, and the group left to go stargazing on the boat about three hours later.
When the group left the cottage, Edwards said he started out operating the boat. The plan was to head to the large part of Lake Joseph, with the longest, broadest view to look at shooting stars and constellations. He said it was a dark, clear and cloudless night.
While about halfway up the bay, Edwards said he asked Ruh to take over as captain of the boat and he agreed. Edwards said they stopped and switched positions. While Edwards was driving the boat, he said the navigation lights were “1000 per cent” on and that he didn’t notice them turn off at any point.
After the incident, Ruh, who is from Orchard Park, N.Y., was also separately charged with failing to exhibit a navigation light while underway.
A number of seconds before the collision, Edwards told the court he heard a boat approaching, but he didn’t think the situation was alarming because he thought the boat would pass them. He said he continued stargazing before he felt the impact of the O’Leary boat.
Immediately after the crash, the group turned on their phones’ flashlights, Edwards testified. At that point, he said he saw Poltash and Brito at the front of the boat, both injured and unresponsive. Edwards said his cousin was thrown face-first onto the floor of the boat and that he was also unresponsive.
Edwards told the court there was a brief interaction with the people on the other boat. He said he recalled a woman’s voice saying, “We struck someone” or “You struck someone” (he couldn’t remember the exact words used) and that a man’s voice asked, “Is everyone OK?” At the time of the crash, Edwards said he didn’t see exactly who was on the boat.
Edwards then said he told the people on the O’Leary boat that there were injuries, people were unconscious and they were going to shore for medical assistance. Edwards told the court he went to the driver’s seat to take the group to shore and that Ruh went to the front of the boat to tend to Brito. Edwards then said Ruh’s wife offered to drive the boat so that he could attend to Poltash (Edwards and Ruh are both doctors).
Edwards told the court someone on the boat called 911 to report what happened and so that paramedics could meet them at the dock. When they got there, Poltash, Brito and Edwards’ cousin were pulled from the boat, Edwards said.
Edwards told the court he bought the boat involved in the crash about nine or 10 days prior to the collision and that it “operated perfectly” and was in “impeccable” condition.
Around the time of the incident, Linda O’Leary’s lawyer Brian Greenspan said she is a “cautious” and “experienced” boater. He’s also described the incident as a “terrible tragedy.”
At the time, he said his client broke her foot in the crash and needed surgery as a result.
On Monday, court saw security video from both the Edwards and the O’Leary cottages during trial. The trial is taking place in person and broadcast by video conference.
Kevin O’Leary, the former star of the popular CBC show Dragons’ Den, also stars in the ABC show Shark Tank. He ran for the leadership of the federal Conservatives in 2017 but eventually dropped out of the race.
— With files from The Canadian Press
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