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Defense's expert witness testifies about issues with boat navigation lights before defense rests case in 2019 fatal boat crash trial

The jury heard testimony from the defense's boat crash reconstruction expert witness before breaking early for the day when the defense rested its case.

RICHLAND COUNTY, S.C. — Closing arguments are expected to begin Wednesday morning in the trial concerning a fatal 2019 boat crash on Lake Murray. Tracy Gordon stands charged with homicide after the boat he was operating crashed into a pontoon boat, killing a 68-year-old Stan Kiser and injuring his wife and daughter.

The jury heard from a handful of witnesses on Tuesday before the defense rested its case, with the bulk of the day focused on whether there was an issue with the lights on the boat being driven by the Kiser family.

“The bottom line is that in cases like this, even with properly functioning navigation lights, they can be hard to see,” Michael Sutton testified.

Sutton took the stand, qualified as an expert in boat accident reconstruction. Sutton has been hired by the defense to provide his opinion on what caused the fatal boat crash where the defendant T-boned a slightly larger pontoon boat after sunset. 

“In this particular case, because Mr. Gordon was approaching it from the side, he didn’t have the benefit of both navigation lights, but to me that’s the most probable cause of this crash,” Sutton said.

Sutton showed the jury how he came to this conclusion, explaining there are white, red and green lights on boats that are supposed to signal to other boats how the watercraft is positioned. Based on his investigation, Sutton testifies the red light filter was weathered with age and was positioned at a 16 degree angle, making it hard for the defendant to see since the night was so dark.

“That leaves only one light for him to see, which is that red light. Which the evidence, physical evidence, is showing that that light was not performing as it should have,” Sutton said. “And you put all of that together — both the issues with the pontoon boat navigation and the environmental effects — you put all that together, it’s going to be really hard…to see this vessel depending on how you approach it.”

The prosecution pushed back, saying a perfectly functioning light is designed to be seen from a mile away.

“There are positive indications that the performance of this light was degraded. So it may be fine from 50 feet, but in this accident it needs to be a lot more than that,” Sutton testified.

“Sure,” the state’s Carter Potts agreed. “So originally it’s supposed to be graded to be seen at one mile?”

“One mile,” Sutton confirmed.

“Right. So that’s far larger than any distance we have in this case, correct?” Potts questioned.

“Correct,” Sutton replied.

The defendant began the day back on the stand, as his team tried to rebuke the state’s argument from Monday that Gordon routinely drinks alcohol and was intoxicated on the night of the crash.

“Since you’ve been with your wife, neither one of you drink during the week?” defense attorney Jack Swerling asked.

“We don’t. That’s what I keep testifying,” Gordon responded. “That’s not our routine. It never has been and it never will be.”

The defense called a handful of other witnesses who know the defendant personally and testified that they would believe Gordon under oath, which was met with no cross examination from the state.

This comes after the state pushed Gordon on his drinking history yesterday, questioning the accuracy of Gordon’s own testimony that he is a “light drinker.”

When further questioned on Tuesday, Gordon said he had been known to drink outside of weekdays, contrary to what he said in court on Monday; however, he maintains that since meeting his wife over a decade ago, they pair prioritize working out and typically only drink alcohol on Saturdays or on holidays.

The defense rested its case just before lunch and the jury is expected to come back on Wednesday morning for closing arguments and deliberations.

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