Published:July 13, 2021
None of the witnesses who were inside the O’Learys’ cottage recalled giving Linda O’Leary an alcoholic beverage after the fatal boat crash in Ontario’s exclusive cottage country, as prosecutors at her trial explore the mysterious vodka she said someone gave her after the crash.
Four long-time friends of Trevor O’Leary — the son of Linda and Kevin O’Leary — testified they were at a bonfire with Trevor overlooking a dark but tranquil Lake Joseph, north of Toronto, at the time of the nighttime crash on Aug. 24, 2019.
Francesca Hawkes, 24, Aaron Lengyel, 24, Samuel Tauber, 23, and Katja Lichtenberger, 24, each described seeing the lights of the O’Leary boat returning to the cottage when there was a loud bang in the dark, followed by lights suddenly turning on aboard a much larger boat.
The group ran down to the dock to help.
Kevin O’Leary, star of the Dragons’ Den and Shark Tank television series, was unhurt, other than a cut finger, court heard. Linda O’Leary had a swollen ankle and a family friend, Allison Whiteside, had a gash on her head. Unknown to them at the time, two people aboard the other boat had serious head injuries and were pronounced dead.
When police arrived at the O’Leary cottage to investigate, court heard Monday, an Ontario Provincial Police officer gave Linda O’Leary, who was driving the boat, a breath test, which showed a warning alert for alcohol and her licence was suspended.
Although she told the officer she had not been drinking, she later said she had a vodka and water after the crash, which someone gave her when she got to the cottage, the officer testified.
O’Leary is fighting a charge of careless operation of a vessel at a trial in Parry Sound, Ont.
Each of the young witnesses, including Trevor, said they did not serve Linda O’Leary an alcoholic drink, nor did they see anyone else serving or drinking alcohol, after the crash.
Tauber said he did take O’Leary a glass of water that was on the counter and put it beside her on a bedside table. He later refilled it with water when he saw it was empty.
Asked by federal Crown prosecutor Jonathan Thompson if he was certain it was a glass of water he gave her, he said “I assume so,” but didn’t know “100 per cent”; “I just grabbed it.”
Not everyone in the cottage that evening has testified. Neither Kevin O’Leary nor Linda O’Leary have taken the stand and it is uncertain whether either will.
Court also heard details for the first time of the dinner party that the O’Learys were returning from at the time of the crash.
Lisa Sterio, a Toronto interior designer who has known the couple for 20 years, was at the dinner for 10 hosted by lakefront neighbour Leah and Bruce Smith.
Sterio said O’Leary’s wine glass was upside down on the dining room table during the meal, signifying she didn’t want any of the wine from the bottles served with dinner.
Under cross examination by Naomi Lutes, one of O’Leary’s lawyers, Sterio said that Linda O’Leary was the couple’s designated driver, or “DD”.
“Linda was the DD, so Linda doesn’t drink and drive,” Sterio said. “She mentioned it a few times because she was like, ‘Kevin, I’m always the DD, I’m always the DD.’”
Sterio said O’Leary called her after they left the party, sounding like she was in shock, to let them know about the crash. The next morning, Sterio texted O’Leary to see how she was doing and received a phone call in response.
O’Leary asked her to be discreet about the crash, she said.
“Don’t let people know that this has happened, strictly because, we both know a lot of people on the lake, so they wanted to keep it hush-hush until things were worked out,” Sterio said was the gist of the conversation.
O’Leary was a private person and didn’t like people gossiping about her, Sterio told court.
The young witnesses from the bonfire each described the crash similarly, saying that shortly after the loud bang, lights on a much larger boat suddenly turned on.
“It was completely dark and then it all lit up,” said Hawkes.
“Huge floodlights came on,” said Tauber. “The boat appeared out of nowhere.”
Their evidence contrasts testimony from previous witnesses who were on the larger boat, who said their vessel was lit during their stargazing trip. Richard Ruh, who was driving the larger boat, earlier pleaded guilty to failing to exhibit a navigation light but testified he did so only to avoid additional legal fees.
Two passengers in the bigger boat died from the collision: Suzana Brito, 48, of Uxbridge, Ont., and Gary Poltash, 64, of Florida.
The trial continues.