Hearing offers new details on boating death

Star-Tribune staff writer
Wednesday, February 18, 2009 8:40 PM MST
Two men charged in connection with the boating death of an Evansville boy should be tried at the same time, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Natrona County Circuit Judge Michael Patchen denied a request for separate trials by an attorney representing one of the men. Defense attorney Don Fuller had asked to split the proceedings, arguing the men face different charges with separate sets of evidence.

The request came during a hearing in preparation for next month's trial of Mark Blackett and Stephen Koch, who were charged following the Aug. 30 boating death of 11-year-old Brenton McCullar on Alcova Reservoir.

Blackett was driving his boat when it collided with a personal watercraft piloted by McCullar. The 38-year-old is accused of negligent vehicular homicide.

Koch, who was riding on the watercraft with the boy, faces a single count of child endangerment.

Relatively few details about the crash have been publicized due, in part, to a circuit court policy preventing the release of court documents involving child victims. Wednesday's hearing, which was open to the public, offered some new information related to the crash.

Fuller, who represents Blackett, alleged Koch had been drinking the day of the crash and had mixed alcohol with painkillers. He said his own client did not have alcohol or drugs in his system.

The allegations against Blackett are related to the seaworthiness of his boat and whether he failed to properly yield the vessel to the personal watercraft, Fuller said. In contrast, the evidence against Koch would mostly focus on what was going on at a campsite before the crash.

"These are two very separate actions were are talking about," Fuller said.

Natrona County Assistant District Attorney Kara Crawford said Fuller hadn't shown the defendants would be prejudiced by a joint trial.

"This all stems from one accident where a boy was killed," she said. "They were both involved in the accident."

Fuller said there was the potential at trial for each defense attorney to blame the other's client. Koch's attorney, Michael Zwickl, watched the proceedings, but did not address Fuller's remarks.

The trial is set for March 17 and is expected to last three days.

Reach crime reporter Joshua Wolfson at (307) 266-0582 or at josh.wolfson@trib.com. Read his blog at www.trib.com/blog.