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Seaport boat owner has to stand trial on criminal charges for fatal harbor crash that left one dead, several injured, judge rules

Day Marker 5

The navigational marker at which Denver's boat suddenly stopped.

A judge ruled this week that there's enough evidence to warrant a criminal trial to determine whether Ryan Denver is guilty of involuntary manslaughter and assault and battery for crashing his speed boat into a 40-foot-tall navigational marker in Boston Harbor early on July 17, 2021, sending him and all of his passengers - one of whom drowned - into the water.

Ryan Denver had argued his indictment should be dismissed because his conduct before the Make it Go Away plowed into Day Marker 5 around 2:45 that morning was, at worst, carelessness, hardly the sort of "wanton and reckless" behavior required for convictions on the charges. And so, no need for an indictment.

But Suffolk Superior Court Judge Robert Ullman concluded that prosecutors and police, including a veteran member of the BPD marine unit, had presented enough evidence to a grand jury to warrant the indictment it issued in October, 2021, that while the indictment itself does not prove whether Denver is innocent or guilty, it does warrant setting that question before a superior-court jury to consider the matter at a trial.

Among the presentations made to the grand jury that convinced Ullman there was probable cause to indict Denver: Evidence that he had pushed his three-engine boat to roughly 49 miles an hour when he hit the structure - compared to the maximum speed of 20 to 25 m.p.h. that even an experienced captain might use entering Boston Harbor while returning from Quincy at night, let alone somebody who had just purchased his expensive craft a month earlier. Also:

The grand jury heard extensive evidence that Denver was part of a group that consumed alcohol for roughly five hours at two different venues before boarding the boat. More specifically to Denver, a marina employee testified that, when Denver arrived at the marina, he was "flush, red-ish" and had "alcohol coming from his breath." Officer Matthews testified that alcohol reduces one's ability to safely operate a boat.

One passenger testified before the grand jury that Denver at times left the boat's steering wheel from time to time and that even when he was guiding the craft, socialized with his passengers - eight 20-somethings he had rounded up for a trip to and from Quincy from his berth along the Seaport.

The grand jury heard testimony that the boat's interior was well-lighted, making it difficult to see anything outside the boat. Officer Matthews testified that the interior cabin lights should be turned off when coming back into Boston by boat at night.

In a separate civil action in federal suit - in which he is trying to limit any lawsuit liability to a total of $50,000, what he says his boat is now worth - Denver has alleged a series of factors for why he is totally blameless for Jeanica Julce's death and the others' injuries that night: He didn't hit the marker on the way to Quincy and he followed his GPS track from that trip in return, so not his fault his boat hit the large permanent structure between Castle Island and Spectacle Island; his passengers got drunk or drugged up on their own, so not his fault; spotlights from two barges dredging nearby at the time made it impossible to see the marker, which, in any case, did not have reflective tape on its support beams near the water line, so again, not his fault.

Denver also blames a guy piloting his father's pleasure craft in the area around the same time, whom he charges circled the people in the water after the crash and then sped off, in violation of federal maritime law. Julce might have made it had that guy stuck around and rendered aid, he charges.

Julce's family and some of the passengers are fighting Denver's attempt to limit his lawsuit liability - which is based on a 19th-century law meant to protect ship owners from lawsuits in which their boats sank at sea due to pirate attacks or storms. They argue that law doesn't apply because Denver was at the helm of the crashed boat and that they should be allowed to sue him for damages well beyond the value of the wrecked boat.

The Coast Guard is also fighting Denver on the issue: It wants him to pay the $300,000 it says it cost to repair the navigational structure, meant to keep large ocean-going ships away from the shallower waters of Dorchester Bay.

Innocent, etc.

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The wheels of American Justice grind slowly in these pandemic times. Thanks be to God they continue to grind.

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