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Trial starts in P.E.I. for man charged after fatal boat collision

Investigators are shown at the wharf in Beach Point following a fatal fishing boat collision in 2018 that resulted in the deaths of two men.
Investigators are shown at the wharf in Beach Point following a fatal fishing boat collision in 2018 that resulted in the deaths of two men.

There was nobody sitting at the wheel of a fishing boat involved in a collision that killed two people in 2018, says the captain of the boat the men were on.

That testimony came from the first witness in Clarence Barry White’s trial in P.E.I. Supreme Court in Charlottetown Tuesday on two charges of criminal negligence causing death.

Chris Melanson, 59, and Justin MacKay, 20, died on June 9, 2018 after the lobster boat Forever Chasin’ Tail collided with the one they were on near Beach Point in eastern P.E.I.

On Tuesday, the court heard MacKay was working on the Joel ‘98 and Melanson was a passenger with his daughter at the time of the collision.

The Joel ‘98’s captain testified his crew was fishing that morning when he went into the boat’s cabin, thought he spotted something out of the corner of his eye and turned to see White’s boat close by.

“All I seen was the chair and there was nobody in it,” he said.

The captain said the boat was going fast and didn’t change direction or speed before the collision.

“There was nobody at the wheel to turn it,” he said.

During his testimony, the Joel ‘98’s captain said White’s boat ended up on top of his, cutting across the back corner where Melanson and MacKay were.

As the boats collided, he could hear fibreglass crashing, breaking and splintering, he said.

In recounting the events, the captain said he asked White where he was and the accused responded he had been in the chair filling out his log book.

The court heard that at one point, someone from the Joel ’98 jumped in the water to look for the two men but got back onboard because the boat was starting to go under.

Before the Joel ’98 sank, everyone who was left onboard moved to White’s boat, which was still on top of theirs.

Eventually MacKay and Melanson resurfaced.

The captain said MacKay was pulled onto the Forever Chasin’ Tail while people on another boat that was in the area got Melanson out of the water.

People on both vessels performed CPR on the men and the captain said there was no response from MacKay.

The witness testified that as someone performed CPR on MacKay, he went to the Forever Chasin’ Tail’s wheel and put it in gear but couldn’t steer. Someone then told him it was on autopilot.

The trial resumes Wednesday morning with the same witness continuing his testimony.

Ryan Ross is The Guardian's justice reporter

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