A King County jury heard closing arguments Monday in the homicide by watercraft trial of Richard Hicks, who is accused of slamming his power boat into an unlit sailboat on Lake Washington last summer. One woman on the sailboat was killed and two others were critically injured.
Though Richard Hicks admitted he had been drinking before he slammed his power boat into an unlit sailboat on Lake Washington last summer, his defense attorney said Hicks isn’t to blame for the fatal crash because of decisions the sailboat operator made.
Hicks, 47, of Renton, is charged with homicide by watercraft and two counts of assault by watercraft for the July 16, 2014, collision off shore from the Leschi Marina, just north of the Interstate 90 bridge.
Jurors, who began hearing testimony in King County Superior Court on July 6, began their deliberations Monday afternoon after closing arguments.
“Richard Hicks was drunk and speeding way too fast for conditions he described as ‘eerily dark,’ ” said Senior Deputy Prosecutor Amy Freedheim, noting that Hicks stipulated to the fact his blood alcohol content was nearly twice the legal limit of 0.08.
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While Hicks “wants to blame the sailboat operator,” she said, “Melissa Protz is dead because a speedboat operator was in a hurry.”
After leaving Chandler’s Crabhouse on South Lake Union, Hicks made his way into Lake Washington in his 25-foot Baja power boat, picking up speed after he cleared the 520 bridge and headed toward the western high-rise of the Interstate 90 bridge, Freedheim said.
Independent witnesses put his speed at between 40 and 45 mph in an area where daytime speeds aren’t to exceed 30 mph, and while Hicks’ boat had a green starboard light, his vessel did not have a white, all-around light, she said.
Just after 10:30 p.m., Hicks swerved hard to the left in an effort to avoid the 22-foot sailboat, which had no lights on, but the momentum caused his hull to ride up over the sailboat, Freedheim said.
“That sailboat was not invisible … it didn’t just race right in front of his boat,” she said. “It was there to be seen if he was traveling at a safe speed and had been vigilantly looking out” for hazards.
Protz, 33, a middle-school teacher in Seattle, suffered three separate injuries that individually would have killed her, Freedheim said.
The sailboat’s operator, Shreedhar Madavapeddi, was crushed by the speedboat and broke 17 of his 24 ribs, Freedheim said. Another passenger, Kathleen Larsen, suffered critical head and shoulder injuries, she said.
Madavapeddi had also been drinking and had a blood alcohol content of 0.13 to 0.14, the jury heard.
Freedheim said Hicks’ mother and girlfriend lied to police about details of the crash, and his girlfriend tried unsuccessfully to smuggle a half-empty bottle of gin off the speed boat.
Hicks also “knew he was impaired but he lied to the police about it and said he hadn’t been drinking at all,” Freedheim said.
Defense attorney Richard Hansen said Madavapeddi was to blame for the crash, arguing his conduct is the “superseding cause” of Protz’s death and the injuries that were sustained, which therefore “negates Mr. Hicks’ conduct as a proximate cause.”
He said Hicks, an experienced boater who was piloting his vessel at 25 to 30 mph, was exercising ordinary care while Madavapeddi was “puttering along at 1 to 2 mph … across the fast lane of Lake Washington,” with his sail down and no lights on his boat.
“If Shree had paid even a minuscule bit of attention to what was going on, this accident wouldn’t have happened,” Hansen said.
Information in this article, originally published July 20, 2015, was corrected July 21, 2015. A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled the last name of Senior Deputy Prosecutor Amy Freedheim.