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Linda O'Leary trial hears grim detail of fatal boating crash in Ontario cottage country

The wife of celebrity investor and television personality Kevin O’Leary is only facing a potential fine for her role in the crash that killed two people

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Video from a security camera overlooking the waterfront of some of Canada’s most exclusive cottage properties captured the fatal crash of a speedboat and a pontoon boat in the summer of 2019, a collision that became a sensation when it was revealed the driver of the speedboat was the wife of celebrity investor and television personality Kevin O’Leary.

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The video footage was shown, reshown and shown again in court, Monday.

Then it was backed up and shown all over again on the opening day of the trial for Linda O’Leary, who was the operator of the speedboat in the collision that night, court heard. Her husband was a passenger that night.

Linda O’Leary faces a single charge of operating a vessel in a careless manner.

She pleaded not guilty to the charge at the start of the hearing.

It is impossible to discern details in the distant scene caught on the security video. Small dots and pricks of light in the background stand out from the inky darkness, where what is the night sky and what is Lake Joseph’s deep water are indiscernible. The court has accepted as an agreed fact the dots of light depict the collision at 11:30 p.m. on Aug. 24, 2019.

The Lake Joseph cottage owned by Kevin O’Leary.
The Lake Joseph cottage owned by Kevin O’Leary. Photo by Peter J. Thompson/National Post

One video, one capturing the collision, shows a small light travelling at significant speed from left to right, identified as the O’Learys’ speedboat. The light stops suddenly and then bounces backwards. Another light then appears to the right of the speedboat, identified as the pontoon boat that was struck.

The video, insisted Brian Greenspan, O’Leary’s lawyer, during his cross examination of the owner of the pontoon boat, Dr. Irv Edwards, who is an emergency room physician, shows the lights on Edwards’ boat being turned on after the O’Learys ran into his unlit vessel, floating in the darkness of a moonless night.

For his part, Edwards wasn’t so sure.

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He insisted his boat’s lights were on — “a thousand per cent” they were, he testified.

Other videos shown in court, including one from Edwards’ own security camera, seemed to show Edwards’ boat leaving his boathouse earlier that evening with all lights on and then, once under way, the lights shutting off, Greenspan said.

No normal person would turn the lights off at night

“No normal person would turn the lights off at night,” replied Edwards, in what was often acrimonious sparring between them.

The status of the lights on Edwards’ boat, which was being operated at the time of the collision by Dr. Richard Ruh, who owns the cottage next door to Edwards, is a key element at trial. If the pontoon boat was unlit, it would be harder to prove carelessness by the operator of the speedboat.

Earlier in the day, Edwards recounted his version of what happened that evening.

Edwards, a dual U.S and Canadian citizen who was born in Canada, is an emergency physician in Los Angeles. He has owned his cottage on Hamer Bay Road, spilling onto Lake Joseph, in Ontario’s most expensive cottage country, for about 15 years.

A sign indicates the location the cottage owned by businessman and television personality Kevin O’Leary on Lake Joseph.
A sign indicates the location the cottage owned by businessman and television personality Kevin O’Leary on Lake Joseph. Photo by Peter J. Thompson/National Post

The O’Learys’ also have a cottage on the lake. Edwards had briefly met them a few times in the past.

“My two sons were friendly — until the night of the accident — with their son, Trevor, and he was a frequent visitor and dinner guest at our house, and I believe my sons had dinner at their house multiple times as well,” he said.

He had bought the 23-foot Nautique G23 just 10 days before.

He hosted a large dinner party on the evening of the crash, inviting his best friend from California, Gary Poltash, 64; his neighbour Ruh and Ruh’s wife Hillary, a contingent of visitors from Buffalo who were visiting the Ruhs; Edwards’ cousin, Murray Wohlmuth, and Wohlmuth’s girlfriend Susanne Brito, 48, from Uxbridge, Ont.; as well as Edwards’ housekeeper.

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After dinner, during which most guests had a glass of wine, Edwards said, they talked and sang until about 10:30 p.m. when they decided to sail to the centre of the lake to stargaze.

By the time Edwards set off captaining his boat he “was completely sober,” he testified.

As they moved towards the “heart of Lake Joe,” Edwards turned the controls over to Ruh so Edwards could watch the sky, he said.

“I wanted to have a better opportunity to star gaze and look at the shooting stars and the constellations.”

Kevin O’Leary seen boating on Lake Joseph.
Kevin O’Leary seen boating on Lake Joseph. Photo by Kevin O'Leary/YouTube/Sony

It was warm, dark and cloudless, and the water was “calm, glassy,” he told court.

They were floating on the lake debating which moving lights in the dark sky were shooting stars and which were satellites, and ribbing Wohlmuth about cheating at golf.

Wohlmuth had been sitting at the front of the boat, in between Poltash and Brito, and had just got up and walked back to the middle of the boat to reply to a joke about his golfing, court heard.

Edwards heard a revving engine, he said, the sound of a speedboat going fast, but he wasn’t alarmed as he assumed the boat would pass by them safely.

It didn’t.

There was a loud and jarring crash.

When Edwards looked down the front of his boat, he saw the two passengers at the front unresponsive and bloodied. The head and neck of Poltash was cocked to one side with a cut to his head so deep he could see grey matter through the blood, he said. Brito also had her head bent over and was bleeding from her nose or lips.

“There was a lot of blood upfront,” he said.

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Both were later pronounced dead.

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Shortly after the collision, Edwards heard a female voice from the speedboat say, “’Oh my God, we struck someone,’ or maybe ‘Oh my God, you struck someone,’” Edwards testified. He then heard a male voice from the speedboat call out: “Is everyone OK?”

Edwards said he replied they were not OK, that he had injured people onboard in need of urgent medical attention and he was taking them to shore for help.

Ruh, also a medical doctor, was tending to Brito. Ruh’s wife took control of Edwards’ boat while Edwards went to tend to Poltash, even though, he said, “there was very little we could do.”

There was very little we could do

Passengers called 911 to ask for paramedics to meet them at the dock they were headed to, he said. Wohlmuth had been thrown to the floor of the boat and knocked unconscious, but was coming to by the time they docked, court heard. If he hadn’t just moved further back in the boat he would not have fared so well.

The charge against O’Leary is laid under the Small Boat Regulations of the Canada Shipping Act. Although she was charged by the Ontario Provincial Police, because that is federal law, O’Leary is being prosecuted by federal lawyers with the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, represented by Samir Adam and Jonathan Thompson.

The charge carries a potential punishment of a fine only; no prison sentence is at stake.

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The trial, which is being held before Justice Richard Humphrey in person in Parry Sound, Ont., but with remote video access, is scheduled to run all this week and then resume for nine days in July.

Families of the dead are suing the owners and drivers of both vessels in separate proceedings from this trial. Ruh was charged with failing to exhibit a stern light on a power vessel underway and earlier settled his charge; he did not contest the case at trial and was convicted without him appearing.

Kevin O’Leary, a businessman, came to wide public prominence as a colourful venture investor on CBC’s business reality TV show Dragon’s Den. Since 2009, he has appeared in the same role on the U.S. version of the show, called Shark Tank. In 2017, he made a failed bid for leadership of the federal Conservative party.

• Email: ahumphreys@postmedia.com | Twitter:


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