At 11:30 this morning, the Lake County jury came in with their verdict in the trial against Bismarck Dinius: Not guilty of felony BUI resulting in death. Not guilty of BUI. And 11-1 for acquittal of operating with a BAC over .08. That charge was later dismissed by District Attorney Jon E. Hopkins, who finally saw the writing on the wall and then quickly fled the courtroom.
For those not familiar with the case, on the night of April 29, 2006, Bismarck Dinius was invited to go for a quick sail on Clear Lake aboard Mark Weber’s O’Day 27 Beats Workin’ II. Both had raced on other boats earlier in the day in the Konocti Cup, both had enjoyed the post-race party, and both thought a leisurely night sail would top off a great day. Several other people went along for the ride, including Weber’s 51-year-old fiancée, Lynn Thornton.
Toward the end of the short voyage, those onboard heard a speedboat approaching — fast. In a matter of seconds, off-duty Lake County Sheriff’s Deputy Russell Perdock’s 385-hp Baja Outlaw had plowed into the starboard aft quarter of the sailboat, launched itself over the top of the cabin and landed on the other side, taking the mast and the life of Lynn Thornton with it.
Russell Perdock admitted to flying along that pitch black night at about 50 mph — to this day he insists that such a high rate of speed is perfectly safe when you can’t see your hand in front of your face — but claimed the sailboat’s running lights were not on. Those on the sailboat — as well as several witnesses onshore — said they were.
Sailors around the world were flabbergasted when Lake County District Attorney Jon E. Hopkins announced that his office would prosecute Bismarck Dinius for vehicular manslaughter and felony BUI that resulted in injury or death. Not the man driving a speedboat at unsafe speeds at night, not the skipper of the sailboat, but the man who happened to have his hand on the tiller.
For two years we’ve railed against this travesty of justice, as have the friends and family of Lynn Thornton. But regardless of the public outcry, the trial began on July 28. For three weeks, we’ve watched as Hopkins presented what we continue to believe was a preposterous case against Dinius. And today, after seven hours of deliberations, the nine-man, three-woman jury found Bismarck not guilty of the felony BUI charge, which if convicted could have landed him in jail for three years. After finding him not guilty, they then had to consider two lesser charges: boating under the influence and boating with a BAC over .08. They found him not guilty on the first charge and deadlocked on the second — 11 jurors wanted to acquit, with one holding out. The judge found that they were hopelessly deadlocked and ordered a mistrial on that count. Thankfully, Hopkins dismissed that charge.
Not to pat ourselves on the back too much, but we at Latitude broke this story to the sailing community — which led to much greater general exposure — and predicted this outcome from Day One. Tell us what you think about the verdict either via email or on our Facebook page.