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Skipper learns penalty for fatal accident

15 years for Virginia go-fast powerboater who ran over the transom of another boat, killing 2

15 years for Virginia go-fast powerboater who ran over the transom of another boat, killing 2

A Virginia man who in June pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and drunken boating in the 2005 deaths of a boating couple on Smith Mountain Lake has been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Mark De Tournillion Sr., 47, owner of a marina on the same lake, will serve the entire sentence, according to Bedford County Commonwealth Attorney Randy Krantz. “There is no parole in Virginia for felonies committed after 1995,” Krantz says. De Tournillion faced up to 20 years in prison in the deaths of Lawrence G. Lewis, 58, and his wife, Judith Spencer Lewis, 59, of Moneta. He faced another year in prison on a charge of operating a boat under the influence of alcohol, the prosecutor says.

While the judge in the case could have allowed De Tournillion to serve his sentences concurrently, he chose instead to sentence the boater to two seven-year sentences and one year-long sentence to run consecutively. “The sentence he got really reflects how aggravated the court thought his actions were,” Krantz says. The state’s theory was that, “On the night of the crash, the defendant operated a high-performance boat on Smith Mountain Lake at night at a high rate of speed while intoxicated. There was no evidence that the victims had done anything to precipitate the crash.”

De Tournillion was operating a Donzi powerboat on the 20,000-acre lake when it struck the Lewises’ 34-foot Wellcraft cabin cruiser. “[The Donzi] hit the transom and then traveled up into and over their boat. The Lewises and their dog died at the scene,” said an investigative report.

Before he pleaded guilty in the case, De Tournillion had filed several motions attempting to exclude evidence from the case, including toxicology tests of his blood, scientific evidence and photos taken immediately after the accident showing the Lewises’ injuries, Krantz says. “He tried to get into evidence that the victims reportedly had alcohol in their systems after the accident,” he says, but the court “took the position that even if the Lewises — specifically Mr. Lewis, who was the operator — had alcohol in their systems, that would not be a defense that the [defendant] could use.”

The sentencing hearing in September was contentious, Krantz says. Prosecutors provided evidence of several encounters between De Tournillion and law enforcement agencies before and after the boating accident, he says. These included an instance a year before the accident when De Tournillion had outrun marine police who had tried to stop him for a sobriety check; an arrest two months before the fatal accident for being drunk in public in an adjoining county; and two arrests for drunken driving after the accident — once in South Carolina and again in Florida, Krantz says.

“I would say it’s one of the more substantial sentences I’ve seen from an involuntary manslaughter case,” says Krantz, who notes that the boating while intoxicated law under which De Tournillion was sentenced took effect only a month before the accident. “I just convicted somebody two weeks prior to this case of second-degree murder and the sentence was only 18 years.”

A task force established after the accident had presented several recommendations to Virginia authorities, among them increased law enforcement patrols on the lake and mandatory boating education. Ralph Brush, who headed the now-defunct task force, says that in the summer of 2006 the lake was more heavily patrolled by state and local law enforcement and the Coast Guard. He says a bill is pending in the Virginia legislature that would require boating education for all operators. But a recommendation for day and night speed limits has been rejected, as has a suggestion for a noise limit law, Brush says.