'Nobody drives into a boat they can see': Kevin O'Leary testifies in defence of wife at trial over fatal crash
'It was like it had a shroud on it or something,' Kevin O'Leary testified. 'And we went right into it. It was chaos. We didn’t know what happened'
O’Leary said his wife was driving him and her close friend home to their lakefront cottage from a different dinner party at a friend’s cottage when they suddenly hit something hard at about 11:30 p.m.
“No moon, beautiful night,” he said, when asked to describe conditions on the water the night of the Aug. 24, 2019, crash. “It was dark. With no moon it is going to be dark.
There wasn’t a pixel of light coming off that boat. It was like it had a shroud on it or something
“We didn’t see anything. There wasn’t anything there. It was like complete darkness because at that point we were facing into the forest, where there are no lights, there are no cottages. No silhouette or anything. There wasn’t a pixel of light coming off that boat. It was like it had a shroud on it or something.
“That boat was invisible.”
“And we went right into it,” he said.
“It was chaos. We didn’t know what happened.”
He called out to see if anyone was there. He heard no response, he said, but then a large boat suddenly lit up.
“It lit up like a Christmas tree. It was huge. It was like a torch being lit,” O’Leary said. “You have to work very hard to make a boat of that size to be that dark. There was completely zero light.”
O’Leary, 67, testified through a video link from Los Angeles, where he is recording new episodes of Shark Tank, a reality TV series based on its Canadian predecessor, Dragons’ Den.
His wife is “meticulous about boating protocol,” he testified. “She’s a very good marine boater.”
His wife grew up around boats and cottage lakes, he said, as the daughter of Albert Greer, a tenor, who is passionate about boating. Her father taught her about boats, boating and boating safety, and she, in turn, taught the O’Learys’ two children, Savannah and Trevor, now both adults.
How often does he drive the boat at the cottage, O’Leary was asked by his wife’s lawyer, Brian Greenspan.
“Basically never,” he said. He knows how to, he added, but was not very good at docking, so his wife almost always takes the wheel. “I’m just not a boating guy,” he said.
She is also always the designated driver for nights out, he said, meaning she was the one expected to drive the boat home so he and other guests could drink alcohol without worrying about impaired driving.
“It was always that way,” O’Leary said.
O’Leary said he doesn’t recall seeing his wife drink any alcohol that evening, while he had two or three glasses of wine.
O’Leary said he did not make or serve his wife an alcoholic beverage after the collision, and he did not notice anything to suggest she had been drinking.
The cross-examination of O’Leary by federal prosecutor Samir Adam was sometimes tetchy, but never explosive. Both men appeared irritated by the other at times.
Under Adam’s questioning, O’Leary said he spoke to a lawyer the morning after the crash about the situation and a lawyer accompanied him to an OPP detachment for a formal interview with a detective about the crash.
A screenshot of the police interview shows O’Leary in a secure interview room with an overhead video camera, as is frequently seen in police interrogation videos. The foot of his lawyer, Joseph Groya, is at the side of the frame.
At another point, Adam said of an answer from O’Leary, “I don’t think that was responsive to my question.”
Much of the cross-examination focused on how far away from his boat did he first see the Nautique, the large boat the O’Learys struck, and about the speed they were travelling at the time of the crash.
O’Leary said he didn’t realize there was something in front of them until it was “too late,” giving his wife only “seconds or split seconds” to react.
During his earlier interview with police, O’Leary told the OPP he saw something grey — the same colour as the detective’s shirt, he said — just before impact, at an estimated distance of five feet.
At trial, he said it was only about 18 inches away when he saw it.
Asked about the difference, O’Leary said the five-foot estimate was not the distance between the front of the two boats, but from his eyes, in the middle of his boat, and the hull of the other vessel.
“The bow got there first,” he said of the crash. “Nobody drives into a boat they can see.”
When asked about his boat’s speed, he estimated it was between 15 to 20 miles per hour. During his earlier police interview he said it was slower than nine or 10 mph.
Adam said O’Leary really had “no idea” how fast they were going to which O’Leary shot back, saying: “Well, I know I wasn’t doing 100 miles an hour and I know I wasn’t doing zero.”
Adam noted that O’Leary’s estimates “varied wildly,” which seemed to irritate O’Leary.
What’s the definition of wildly?
“Wildly? What’s wildly? What’s the definition of wildly? What percentage delta would wildly be — I’m interested.”
(Delta in statistics refers to the overall change in a value.)
O’Leary also rejected Adam’s suggestion that if they were going slower, they could have avoided the collision.
“You can’t avoid something you can’t see,” O’Leary said. “You could probably still hit it at any speed.”
O’Leary’s testimony stretched over nearly five hours with only brief breaks to conclude it all in one day.
Linda O’Leary is fighting her charge at a lengthy trial in Parry Sound, Ont. A guilty finding would result in a fine only, without jail time.
Susanne Brito, 48, from Uxbridge, Ont., and Gary Poltash, 64, of Florida, were passengers on board the boat that was hit. They both died of blunt force trauma.
Video of the crash, captured in the distance by a dockside security camera at the O’Learys’ cottage, shows the light of the O’Leary boat suddenly stopping and bouncing back in the water of a dark lake. The larger boat’s lights only become visible 49 seconds after the crash.
Court heard that at least six civil lawsuits sprung from the collision. Those proceedings were put on pause until after Linda O’Leary’s trial.
Kevin O’Leary was the only defence witness called.
Judge Richard Humphrey will hear oral submissions and argument from both sides on Thursday, which is expected to be the last day of the hearing.
Humphrey already said he expects to reserve his decision to render it on a later day after his consideration of the evidence.