MANDEL: Linda O'Leary found not guilty in fatal Muskoka boat crash

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MANDEL: Linda O'Leary found not guilty in fatal Muskoka boat crash
"The standard of care and skill is not one of perfection. Rather, it is a reasonable degree of skill, and what an ordinary person would do," the judge ruled.

Author of the article:Michele Mandel
Michele Mandel
Publishing date:Sep 14, 2021 • 7 hours ago • 3 minute read • 52 Comments
Linda and Kevin O'Leary attend Haute Living and Grand Seiko Host Cover Dinner in honour of Morimoto, celebrating Miami food and wine at Le Sirenuse on Feb. 20 in Surfside, Fla.
Linda and Kevin O'Leary attend Haute Living and Grand Seiko Host Cover Dinner in honour of Morimoto, celebrating Miami food and wine at Le Sirenuse on Feb. 20, 2020 in Surfside, Fla. PHOTO BY ROMAIN MAURICE /Getty Images for Haute Living
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They were floating on Lake Joseph, looking up at the stars on that dark August night two years ago.

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Linda O’Leary had no idea they were there. A judge has found that no reasonable person would.


The 2016 Super Air Nautique G 23 wakeboard boat and its 12 passengers aboard were invisible to O’Leary as she ferried her famous husband and a friend back to their palatial cottage from a friend’s dinner party.

The night in posh cottage country was about to take a tragic turn.

At about 11:30 p.m., the O’Learys’ 1991 Cobalt ski boat slammed into the bow of the Nautique where Uxbridge mother of three Suzana Brito, 48, and Florida retiree Gary Poltash, 64, were sitting. Poltash died immediately from blunt force trauma. Brito succumbed to her injuries a few days later.

Who is to blame?

Not O’Leary, according to Ontario Court Justice Richard Humphrey.

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Following a four-week trial covered end-to-end by the media due to her famous name, O’Leary was acquitted in a Parry Sound courtroom of careless operation of a vessel under the Shipping Act.

Uxbridge mother Suzana Brito, right, and American Gary Poltash are pictured in Muskoka. Both died after an Aug. 24, 2019 boating accident involving celebrity businessman Kevin O’Leary. (GoFundMe)
Uxbridge mother Suzana Brito, right, and American Gary Poltash are pictured in Muskoka. Both died after an Aug. 24, 2019 boating accident involving celebrity businessman Kevin O’Leary. (GoFundMe)
But this is not the end of this story.

“Today’s acquittal of Linda O’Leary was a further disappointment for the families in their pursuit of justice,” said the victims’ lawyer Patrick Brown. “The acquittal in this matter has no bearing on the victims’ civil lawsuit. A different standard of fault applies, and additional evidence will be heard by a different court.”

O’Leary’s acquittal was not a surprise — especially after it became clear from dockside surveillance video footage and witness testimony that despite the denials from those on the Nautique, the boat’s navigational lights had been turned off — presumably to better see the night’s sky.

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The driver of the Nautique — Dr. Richard Ruh of Buffalo — was even cited by the OPP for not having lights on at night. After a year and $40,000 in legal fees, he testified that he stopped fighting the ticket and paid the $125 fine.


Humphrey found O’Leary was an experienced boater who took reasonable steps to operate safely that night and could not have known she’d collide with another boat in the middle of the lake with its lights off.

“Both she and her husband were on the lookout for potential risks which might
interfere with their navigation,” he said.

The judge rejected the prosecutors’ argument that O’Leary should have been aware of “the potential risk of an unlit boat being in her path” and was driving with excessive speed. Humphrey said prosecutors failed to present any expert evidence to prove how fast she was going, let alone that her speed was excessive.

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“This submission almost suggests that no one should operate a boat at night under any circumstance,” he said.

“The standard of care and skill is not one of perfection. Rather, it is a reasonable degree of skill, and what an ordinary person would do.”

Humphrey also rejected any suggestion that O’Leary was impaired by alcohol at the time. Court heard she had blown an “alert” on an alcohol screening device following the crash but told police she’d been given a vodka after to calm her nerves.

“Any alcohol ingested was minimal, and she took pains to make certain that was the case. There is no evidence that alcohol played a part in the outcome,” the judge said.

Now O’Leary’s legal troubles shift back to the civil court where each side is undergoing questioning in examinations for discovery.

“The family of course is upset and disappointed. It has been over two years since the death of their innocent loved ones and there’s been no accountability for this crash,” their lawyer said in an email.

“As we said when we issued the initial claim in November 2019 for these grieving families, it is about obtaining civil justice to prevent these deaths and curtail reckless and dangerous behaviour from continuing on our lakes. We are not there yet,”their lawyer said in an email.

mmandel@postmedia.com