The owner of the second boat denies competing with Thiel’s boat | Local crime and courts

James Thiel Sr. told a police officer at the scene of a doubly fatal boating accident that the driver of the other boat “came out of nowhere” and spun in front of his boat.

The evidence came in the form of body camera video from LeClaire’s former officer Skylar Mitchell, who took the stand Thursday in Thiel’s involuntary manslaughter trial.

Thiel offered in the video that he was not driving his 35-foot Triton boat, but that the minor who was driving it had the proper license.

“We are as legal as can be,” he said in the video. “I’m telling you: we were going straight down the river.”

No other testimony regarding the minor’s legal status as operator of Thiel’s boat has yet been produced.

Another witness testified Thursday that she and her husband saw Thiel’s boat “compete” with another boat just before the accident. Several other witnesses have said that Thiel’s boat was racing a boat owned by Ethan Mahler.

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Linda Cain said she and her husband, Bill, were in their vehicle in the parking lot along the levee in LeClaire when they heard the Newt coming downriver.

“It’s a big ship,” Cain testified. “I said, ‘My God, it’s flying.’ They were too close to shore.

“When he (the Triton driver) passed by, we both said, ‘Oh my God. He’s going to hit it (Craig Verbeke’s boat).”

Verbeke and his fiancée, Anita Pinc, both of Moline, died as a result of injuries they sustained in the crash. They were in a 19 foot Bayliner.

“It was barely moving,” Cain said of the Bayliner. “The Triton came down and hit him when he was sitting in the canal.”

During cross-examination, Thiel’s attorney, Leon Spies, asked Cain about a social media post he made after the crash.

In the post, he wrote: “The small boat cut in front of the larger boat traveling at high speed.”

She testified that she meant Verbeke’s boat was “at a crossroads in the channel.”

While he said Verbeke’s boat was “barely moving,” he also said it “turned into the path of the bigger boat.”

Several witnesses have stated that Verbeke appeared to be trying to get out of the way of the larger ship.

Mahler, the owner/operator of a 25-foot jet boat that was identified by witnesses as the one competing with Thiel, also took the stand Thursday.

He denied that he was running and said that he was way ahead of the Triton when he passed LeClaire.

A longtime friend of Thiel’s, Mahler said the two families had lunch together in Clinton, then spent a couple of hours in the sand pits near Cordova before heading south to LeClaire.

On his way down the river around 6 p.m., Mahler said, he passed Thiel’s boat “a safe distance” north of LeClaire, estimating he was traveling 45 mph.

“I have no idea where they were,” he said of Thiel’s boat as it passed the LeClaire Levee.

The prosecution then presented a video recording of an interview Mahler gave to investigators at the scene. In it, he is asked about the positions of the two ships, and uses his hands in such a way that he represents the ships as parallel.

Asked by the investigator if his ship was ahead of the Triton, Mahler replied, “I was right next to them.”

On the witness stand, he was asked if the unnamed minor was driving Thiel’s boat, and Mahler said he couldn’t remember. However, he said that he trusts the teenager to operate all of his boats.

The defense then presented a photo Mahler took of the boy driving his Scarub, pulling seven children on two inner tubes.

In the redirect, the prosecution questioned Mahler about the legal requirement that boat operators have “spotters” on board when towing water skiers or inner tubes, so the driver can focus on what’s in front of the boat.

Mahler noted that there were two observers on board in the photo.

Despite the presence of observers, the minor driver pulling the children in the photo was, in fact, turned toward the rear of the boat.

Mahler also testified that he did not see Verbeke’s boat while traveling down the river and only realized it after a passenger on his boat told him he thought two boats had collided.

In another testimony on Thursday morning:

Iowa Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, conservation officer Derrick Slutts told jurors he detected “a very strong odor” of alcohol on Thiel several times while he was on the bank of the LeClaire River after the accident.

He said he could smell alcohol “from quite a distance.”

DNR records indicate that Thiel refused to submit to a breathalyzer test, and his attorney has said he did so on the advice of his attorney.

Slutts also said that he was part of the team that took the boats into evidence. He said he put Thiel’s boat on his trailer without starting the engines because he wanted to preserve evidence that is stored in the boat’s navigation system.

Thiel closely followed the process, he said, adding: “Their main concern was that we were going to damage the ship. I don’t remember him asking about the occupants of the Bayliner at any point during the night.”

Spies asked during cross-examination if performing CPR on Verbeke, which Thiel did, was a show of concern, and Slutts agreed that it was.

Dr. Dennis Firchau, a forensic pathologist who oversaw Pinc’s autopsy, told the jury about his injuries.

The cause of death, he said, was blunt force injuries to the head, neck and trunk.

She suffered a multitude of serious injuries, Firchau said, including skull fractures, brain injuries, a dislocation of the joint connecting her head and neck, rib fractures and internal bleeding.

Toxicology tests were performed, he said, and Pinc’s blood alcohol content was .074. The legal limit to operate a motor vehicle is .08, but testimony indicated that Verbeke was driving.

His blood alcohol level was .102, records show.

Anita Pinc and Craig Verbeke

Anita Pinc and Craig Verbeke

Thursday, April 14 Weather Update for Iowa and Western Illinois