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Man who caused boat tragedy spared jail

Suspended sentence: Andrew Lake with his family outside court yesterday (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

A boat helmsman who caused the death of a visitor from New Zealand escaped with a suspended prison sentence yesterday.

Andrew Lake, 27, was sentenced to eight months in jail, suspended for two years, and 100 hours of community service for his role in the boat crash that claimed the life of Mary McKee in Hamilton Harbour last year.

He was also given two five-month suspended sentences at the Supreme Court for injuring Arthur McKee, Mrs McKee’s husband, and yacht skipper Charlie Watson.

Lake said he was “devastated” by what happened and that the crash and the image of Mrs McKee will be etched on his memory for ever.

He added: “I just hope at the conclusion of this trial, I can reach out to her family and express my sincere apologies to them and their family.”

Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons said Lake had shown genuine remorse, had admitted his guilt and had made efforts to help at the scene of the crash.

Mrs Justice Simmons added that she hoped Lake would use his community service hours to help to prevent similar incidents.

She said: “Such time could be spent teaching others about water safety and powerboat safety.”

The verdict came after Lake was cleared of manslaughter on Friday.

He had earlier admitted causing the death of Mrs McKee by reckless driving and injuring two other people by dangerous driving.

Lake was at the helm of a 17ft motorboat on the night of June 1 last year when it hit and ran over a semi-inflatable boat.

Mrs McKee, who was on the island with her husband to watch the America’s Cup, was knocked unconscious in the impact, thrown out of the boat and drowned.

Mr McKee suffered a fractured skull and the skipper of the small inflatable, Mr Watson, suffered severe leg injuries.

The jury had heard that the inflatable carrying the McKees was not displaying navigation lights.

Cindy Clarke, deputy director of the Department of Public Prosecutions, read to the court several statements from Mrs McKee’s family, including her four children.

Lucy McKee, her eldest daughter, said: “Mum was a beautiful, compassionate, open-minded, fun and clever woman. She had a natural empathy and genuine, warm humour that was instantly apparent to anyone who met her.”

Elliot McKee, her son, said: “I’m sure the guilt that you feel over causing the death of another person is great, but I can assure you that it would pale in absolute comparison to the guilt you would feel if you truly knew who my mother was and just how much she meant to so many of us on this earth.

“No victim impact statement could ever have the power to make you truly understand the profound amount of pain you have caused my family and the countless others who loved my mother greatly.”

Missy McKee, her youngest daughter, said she had hoped to announce her pregnancy before Mrs McKee left the island.

She added: “Because of you, my daughter will never meet her grandmother and one day I will have to explain to her why.”

Jerome Lynch, defence lawyer for Lake, said the consequences of the crash were tragic as highlighted by the “moving” statements from Mrs McKee’s family.

However, he said the accident would probably never have happened if the inflatable boat struck by Lake had displayed navigation lights.

Mr Lynch said: “Contributory negligence is not a defence, but it couldn’t be ignored and shouldn’t be ignored on sentencing.”

Mr Lynch questioned how a jury would have voted if Mr Watson had been charged with not having the required navigational lights.

Mr Lynch said: “It was at best irresponsible and at worst culpable.”

He added that civil actions in connection with the loss of Mrs McKee and the injuries suffered to others in the crash would probably be launched.

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