Thursday, August 5, 2004

Man in boat crash reaches plea deal


Faces 10-year sentence after wreck hurt 5

By Jim Hannah
Enquirer staff writer

[photo]
Glenn C. Colann
NEWPORT - A suburban Columbus man accused of causing an Ohio River boat wreck that injured five people - four seriously - reached a plea agreement Wednesday that could send him to jail for 10 years.

"I think it is a good result," Campbell County Commonwealth's Attorney Jack Porter said. "It should get the attention of anyone who is going to drive a boat recklessly on the Ohio River."

Glenn C. Colann of Gahanna remains free on a $20,000 cash bond awaiting his sentencing Sept. 28 in Campbell Circuit Court.

Investigators said Colann sped away after his 40-foot Baja Outlaw speedboat struck Sycamore Township resident Brian Maher's 20-foot pleasure boat June 27, 2003, from behind. Maher was on the boat with his wife, 5-year-old son and four friends.

A two-state manhunt was quickly launched to find the boat, described as purple and yellow with the name "Snap Decision" written across it.

[photo]
Bruce Collins, a detective with the Campbell County Commonwealth Attorney's Office, examines the damaged fin on one of the three outdrives on "Snap Decision" after a boat crash last year.
Enquirer file
A break came a day after the wreck when Tim Suter, the mayor of Moscow, told Clermont County police that he saw a white-purple-and-yellow boat with a severely damaged motor being towed by a blue GMC truck a day after the wreck.

Colann, in his GMC pickup towing a speedboat, returned to Dayton, Ky., July 1, 2003, to turn over his boat to police. But he wasn't charged until the following October. Police said the delay was for forensic experts in boat crashes to comb the wreckage for evidence.

Yet, until Wednesday, Colann's lawyer had denied his client was involved. At one point, his lawyer suggested damage to his client's boat might have been caused by hitting a log.

As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors reduced four assault charges from first degree to second degree. That reduces the time Colann must serve before being eligible for parole from 85 percent of his sentence to 20 percent.

That means Colann could go before the parole board in two years if the judge follows the prosecutors' recommendation.

Colann entered an Alford plea to four counts of second-degree assault, three counts of fourth-degree assault and seven counts of wanton endangerment. An Alford plea means a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict.

Porter said he offered a plea deal to Colann months earlier and revised it about a week ago. He said he learned Colann was taking the offer Monday, but it came as a surprise to many in the courtroom. Wednesday's hearing was originally scheduled to hear defense lawyers' attempts to limit evidence that the prosecution planned to show in the trial.

Those injured in the crash were not present, but Porter said he had informed them of the plea agreement.

"One of the victims wept in tears of joy when told of the news," Porter said. "They were not looking forward to a long trial, being on the stand and testifying. It was going to be stressful for all of them, but more so for the injured."

Maher was vacationing with his family on the West Coast and couldn't be reached Wednesday for comment. However, his civil attorney, James Poston Jr., said his client was relieved.

"All the victims are very pleased with the effort by the prosecution," Poston said. "They are very supportive of the plea agreement. They feel, in some respects, that justice has been served."

Porter said the resolution means the victims can now focus their attention on a civil suit filed against Colann and others.

The plaintiffs in the civil suit are: Maher; Stephen Abernathy of Kings Mill, Ohio; Douglas Howard of Cincinnati; William Wright of Waterford, Mich.; and Tom Bocson of Troy, Mich.

The defendants are Colann and his passengers: Kathy Lytle and Michael Zang of Villa Hills; and Steve Gott of Covington. The Ludlow Bromley Yacht Club Inc., a riverside restaurant accused of serving the defendants alcohol, also is named.

The civil suit claims Colann was "on a mission to get drunk" the night of the wreck and that he went up and down the Ohio River at speeds exceeding 80 mph, challenging others to race.

Maher, a schoolteacher, and three of his passengers were seriously injured.

Abernathy was hurt the worst, with facial and skull fractures, several broken ribs and a broken shoulder blade. Bocson had several broken ribs, a broken ankle, bruises and scores of stitches on his eye and his knees from shards of broken glass. He also had burns on his right arm.

Only Maher's wife, Debbie, and son, Jesse, escaped unharmed.

E-mail jhannah@enquirer.com




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