Urine test challenged in runaway boat case

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The defense lawyer for a Madison, Conn., man charged with second-degree manslaughter, reckless endangerment, assault and boating under the influence is challenging the blood-alcohol test administered to his client.

Gregory Siege, 46, was charged after his powerboat sliced through a sailboat and killed a woman.

On July 8, 2007 Siege fell off his 20-foot center console Edgewater with 200-hp outboard at about 3:46 p.m., according to defense attorney Charles E. Tiernan III.

Siege was not wearing a lanyard, leaving the uncontrolled vessel running in circles on the Connecticut River near Old Saybrook, Conn. At 3:48 p.m. the powerboat sliced through a 14-foot 1979 Hutchins sailboat with a 4-hp outboard. Susan Brandes, 53, of South Windsor, was a passenger on the sailboat and died of several blunt trauma injuries. The three other passengers on board were injured as well, according to Tiernan.

When Siege was pulled from the water by authorities and taken to Old Saybrook town dock, Department of Environmental Protection officers administered several field sobriety tests. Urinalysis tests taken later showed Siege had an alcohol concentration of 0.17 percent at 5:56 p.m. and a level of 0.15 percent at 6:30 p.m., according to Tiernan. The limit by Connecticut state law is 0.08.

“Our position is that there is no reliable evidence that Mr. Siege was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time,” says Tiernan. “By the time Siege [gave] a urine sample, it was over two hours after the accident. In order for tests to be admissible for the charge of boating under the influence, they must be done within two hours.”

Siege told authorities he had consumed Scotch whiskey before the incident and authorities reported that he smelled of alcohol and appeared unsteady, according to published reports.

“There has been a lot of research done stating that in fact urine testing is not the appropriate way to test the blood-alcohol level,” says Tiernan. “We would like to be given the opportunity to present evidence in regards to this.”

Tiernan says when Siege was subjected to the sobriety test at the Old Saybrook town dock, he was barefoot, on gravel, in 80-degree heat.

“That would be extremely difficult for anyone to walk on,” says Tiernan.

Officers took into consideration the “totality of the situation,” watching Siege at the scene and performing the appropriate tests, according to Sarah E. Steere, prosecutor in the case.

The New London Superior Court was slated to make a decision after Jan. 19 on the defense’s request.

This story originally appeared in the February 2009 issue.