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Ranger testifies in fatal boat accident trial
0218trial 6
DNR Ranger Mark Stephens is sworn in the trial of Jeffrey Hubbard of Atlanta, on trial on charges of homicide and four other counts after hitting two children with a personal watercraft on Lake Lanier in July 2012. Stephens, who witnessed the crash from several hundred yards away, testified he was waiting to be sure Hubbard was violating boating laws — to give him the benefit of the doubt — when the crash occurred. - photo by NAT GURLEY

For Mark Stephens, ranger with the Department of Natural Resources, July 6, 2012, marked the second death investigation on Lake Lanier involving children he had responded to in less than a month.

“I’m tired of this,” he reflected to fellow officers, after he had interviewed the defendant in what would become a homicide case.

“(An injured teen girl) got better and better as we went on. But that boy,” he said, his voice trailing off. “Here we go again.”

Jeffrey Simon Hubbard is on trial in Hall County Superior Court in connection with his alleged role in a July 6, 2012, collision on Lake Lanier that caused the death of 11-year-old Kile Glover and seriously injured Jordan Shepp, then 15.

A few weeks earlier, Buford brothers Jake, 9, and Griffin Prince, 13, were killed in a nighttime collision on June 18, 2012.

Kile was the son of Tameka Foster and Ryan Glover, president of Bounce TV. He was the stepson of entertainer Usher.

Hubbard is charged with homicide by vessel and serious injury by vessel, both felonies. He also faces misdemeanor counts of reckless operation of a vessel, unlawful operation of a personal watercraft and boat traffic violation in connection with alleged infringement of the “100-foot law,” banning speeds above idle within 100 feet of vessels unless overtaking or meeting the other vessel in compliance with the rules for boat operation.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Wanda Vance asked Stephens why he didn’t stop Hubbard minutes earlier before the personal watercraft he operated collided with the kids on a tube, pulled by a pontoon boat driven by Ryan Glover. Stephens said he had thought Hubbard was splashing the pontoon boat in violation of the 100-foot law.

“If I wasn’t seeing it — if it wasn’t concrete enough to know that was what exactly what he was doing, I’d give him the benefit of the doubt,” Stephens said. “Looking back on it now, we wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t, but I just choose not to.”

Stephens was the state’s lengthiest witness, often engaging in spirited but contentious dialogue with defense attorney Jeffery Talley, even provoking gasps from several of Hubbard’s supporters when he spoke plainly on the case in ways that seemed dismissive of defense theories.

“The best thing he could have done, Mr. Glover, is kept doing what he was doing,” Stephens said, when pressed on the rules of boating navigation regarding obligation to give way and maintain course.

“If it wasn’t for the reckless operation of your client, the incident wouldn’t have happened,” he added.

“This is just your opinion,” Talley responded.

“I saw it,” Stephens said.

“Don’t go making me the bad guy,” Stephens later said. “I’m merely doing my job.”

Talley has asserted the DNR didn’t adequately do its job in investigating the incident, botching key evidence in the case.

He also implied Stephens was overly focused on making a BUI case against Hubbard where there was none. Stephens said Hubbard’s passing of field sobriety tests didn’t convince him alcohol wasn’t a factor.

“I don’t think it played a factor in him being intoxicated. If it had, he would be going to the Hall County Detention Center,” Stephens said. “I’m not saying it didn’t play a part in his inhibitions or his reaction time. I can’t sit here and say that.”

The state also admitted testimony from the critical care physician who treated Kile.

Dr. Jim Fortenberry, pediatrician in chief at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, testified it was immediately clear Kile’s injuries were grave when he came into the intensive care unit by helicopter.

“He was unfortunately in very grave condition. He had massive head injury; massive bleeding from the head,” Fortenberry said.

Kile had to be shocked to resuscitate his heart at one point, Fortenberry said.

Foster, who was in court for the first time, was visibly distraught listening to Fortenberry’s testimony, leaving the courtroom in tears.

Fortenberry said it was ultimately massive swelling that caused the blood supply to be cut off to Kile’s brain, causing brain death.

“Unfortunately, that’s not something that can be reversed,” Fortenberry said.

Legal death was determined a few days after the accident, although Kile’s heart was kept beating by machines for several days.

The state continues presentation of evidence this morning in Judge Bonnie C. Oliver’s courtroom, where Talley will resume his cross-examination of Sgt. Steve Seitz with the DNR’s Critical Incident Reconstruction Team.