In dramatic testimony about a boating accident that killed two people, a 45-year-old defendant sobbed and wiped his eyes in the witness box on Wednesday.
James Thiel Sr., of Pleasant Valley, is charged with unintentionally causing the deaths of Craig Verbeke and Dr. Anita Pinc on August 16, 2020, when two boats collided.
Before Thiel Sr. began his testimony at 3 p.m., the judge dismissed the jury and asked Thiel if he had spoken with his attorney about his testimony. He said he did.
When the jurors returned, Thiel took the stand in a very quiet courtroom.
He couldn’t stop the tears at first, saying “I can’t imagine what you’ve been through” and “I’m sorry.”
Thiel said he grew up on the river and came from a family of boaters. “I’ve had ups and downs all my life,” he said.
Thiel said his son James Jr., who was driving the boat, was “absolutely not running” during the incident and was an experienced boater. “He still controls the boat,” he said.
The Thiel family had taken the Brooke family and Spencer Jewell on the boat for the afternoon. They had gone to lunch at the Candlelight Inn in Clinton.
Thiel drew a diagram for the jury and said the other boat driver had cut in front of them.
“I saw him. I said ‘What is this guy doing?’ His son had started to slow down, he said.
“He flipped, and we flipped, and then collided right there,” Thiel said.
Thiel was thrown out of the boat and immediately began searching the water for others. He remembers screaming for help.
He said he started CPR on Verbeke. “I tried to figure out if he was breathing or not,” he said.
He said he felt safe on the boat with his son at the wheel. “I would do it 100 times,” he said.
The rebuttal witnesses are scheduled to testify on Thursday, when closing arguments can be delivered.
In June 2021, Thiel pleaded not guilty to manslaughter. This felony charge carries a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to $10,245.