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Testimony in Lanier boat death trial may resume Friday

Before recessing due to weather, defense said crash was ‘tragic accident’

POSTED: February 12, 2014 3:36 p.m.

After a deep breath and a long sigh, Ryan Glover spoke from the witness stand Tuesday about the boating accident that left his son brain dead.

"I never imagined anything to this magnitude would happen," he said.

Jeffrey Simon Hubbard is charged with homicide for his alleged role in the July 6, 2012, collision on Lake Lanier that caused the death of 11-year-old Kile Glover, son of Tameka Foster, ex-wife of entertainer Usher.

Presiding Judge Bonnie C. Oliver notified jurors that inclement weather closed the courthouse Wednesday and today. Testimony may resume Friday.

Glover said during the first day of testimony in Hall County Superior Court that Hubbard had repeatedly driven a personal watercraft within feet of the pontoon boat he was driving, pulling a raft carrying his son Kile, and friend Jordan Shepp.

Glover said he did not witness the collision, but as soon as he heard screams he knew something terrible had happened.

"I immediately see Jeff in the water crying," Glover said, adding that he proceeded to jump in to rescue the injured kids.

Glover said his son never responded after being pulled from the water.

"At that point, I knew he was talking to God," Glover said.

Kile Glover died July 21, 2012, after suffering severe brain injuries. Shepp was permanently injured.

Glover was emotional describing the accident, choking up on occasion. Hubbard, who was a close family friend, held his head in his hands during much of the testimony.

“No one is going to say Mr. Hubbard meant to do this,” said Chief Assistant District Attorney Wanda Vance in her opening statement. “This is a homicide case because of the reckless behavior. It isn’t a murder case. It isn’t a bad guy case.”

“He ran over two children with a 900-pound Jet Ski. He killed Kile, and Jordan was left permanently injured,” Vance added.

Hubbard is facing five charges: homicide by vessel, serious injury by vessel, both felonies, and the misdemeanors reckless operation of a vessel, unlawful operation of a personal watercraft and boat traffic violation for alleged violation of the “100-foot law.” The rule mandates that drivers of boats and personal watercraft not operate at more than idle speed within 100 feet of a sitting object or a person in the water.

Hubbard’s lawyer, Gainesville attorney Jeffery Talley, said his client's actions were not in violation of criminal code, and that the collision was a tragic accident.

“There is no law on the books that says you can’t splash,” he said in opening statements. “When it’s all done and over, the evidence will show that this was nothing more, nothing less, than an accident.”

Vance said Hubbard drew recklessly close in efforts to splash people, to the increasing alarm of friends.

She said Hubbard was speeding, described as “zooming around” by witnesses.

Talley said the investigation, led by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, was botched.

“Important evidence was contaminated in this case by the investigators. Important evidence was lost in connection to this case. That would include physical evidence. Items. Things,” he said. Other relevant evidence, he said, including statements, wasn’t considered in the investigation.

“The evidence is going to show you that techniques were sloppy and the interviews were sloppy,” he added.

Vance told jurors the DNR’s reconstruction of the accident indicated Hubbard was at fault, although she de-emphasized its weight in the case.

“It’s not as important in the case as some others because there are many, many eyewitnesses who can tell you what happened,” she said.

Talley said in the aftermath of the crash, blame passed among the family and friends, influencing their version of events.

“This is where the blame game begins, and friends are no longer friends anymore,” he said.

Shepp, now 17, was the state’s first witness.

“We rode enough to pick up speed. That’s the last visual memory I have,” she said.

On cross-examination, Talley asked Shepp about the events immediately leading up to the crash: the position of the float relative to the pontoon and Hubbard’s distance, speed and position.

Shepp said she didn’t see Hubbard, with no recollection of her reaction moments before the collision.

“I wasn’t expecting to get hit,” she told Vance.

The 2012 incident was the second fatal boating incident of that summer involving children. Buford brothers Jake and Griffin Prince were killed in a nighttime collision on June 18, 2012.

Paul Bennett, the boater accused of causing that accident, was acquitted on eight homicide by vessel charges, but convicted on the misdemeanors of boating under the influence, failure to render aid and two counts of reckless boating.

Sitting in court behind Hubbard and his defense attorneys was Phil Odom, an expert in boat collision reconstruction who testified in Bennett’s November trial.

The two accidents spurred legislative change. Last summer, the blood-alcohol concentration for legal operation of a vessel was lowered to 0.08 from 0.10. Taking effect this July, new boaters must take boater safety education classes. Additional provisions include stricter life jacket rules and age restrictions on the types of boats and watercraft that teenagers and children younger than 12 may operate.

 


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