Saturday, Nov 22, 2014

Man in fatal boating wreck gets probation

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Published:   |   Updated: January 29, 2014 at 06:06 PM

CLEARWATER — Robert Turnbull was trying to help when he offered to give his friend a ride on his Sea Doo watercraft to retrieve a wallet and money that he had left on a boat.

Instead, his friend, Victor Vasquez, was killed when Turnbull’s watercraft struck a channel marker, throwing both of them off. Turnbull dragged Vasquez out of the water and brought him ashore, but it was no use.

Turnbull, 36, of Indian Rocks Beach, was charged with boating-under-the-influence—manslaughter and vessel homicide, which carry a maximum sentence of 15 years.

He learned Wednesday, however, that he won’t be going to prison.

The bui-manslaughter charge was reduced to careless operation of a vessel, a misdemeanor, and Turnbull pleaded guilty to the reduced charge as part of an arrangement between his attorney, Denis deVlaming, and the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office,

Turnbull also pleaded guilty to the vessel homicide charge and, as part of the plea, was sentenced to 10 years probation.

Vasquez’s family was “very, very adamant” in not wanting Turnbull to go to prison, Assistant State Attorney Holly Grissinger said outside court. They didn’t even want him to go to jail.

“We honored their wishes,” Grissinger said.

As part of the plea, Vasquez’s family, which lives in Puerto Rico, received $25,000 in restitution. They badly needed the money, Grissinger said.

On March 10, 2012, the day of the crash, Turnbull, Vasquez and some other friends spent 3 1/2 hours drinking at the Tropix Island Tiki Bar on Clearwater Beach, according to court documents.

On their way back to Indian Rocks Beach, in a convoy of at least one boat and one personal watercraft, the boat Vasquez was in grounded on a sand bar near the Belleair Causeway Bridge, the documents state. Turnbull hit the same sandbar on his personal watercraft and was thrown, but was able to get back on. People in another boat tried to help, but their boat grounded, too.

Turnbull dislodged his Sea Doo and ferried everyone, including Vasquez, from the first boat to the second one that grounded. Then he towed that boat to his place at 2507 Bay Blvd.

When Vasquez remembered he had left his belongings on the boat, Turnbull offered to take him back on the Sea doo, the documents state. It was 8:15 p.m. and already dark. Turnbull wasn’t supposed to be on the water after sunset, Grissinger said in court. He apparently didn’t see the channel marker that they hit.

In court documents, Turnbull’s blood alcohol level was listed in one test at .087, slightly above .08 threshold at which a boater is presumed drunk.

Outside of court, Grissinger said deVlaming had hired an expert who put Turnbull’s blood-alcohol at .05.

Turnbull made no statement in court, and declined to comment later through his attorney.

“It’s a horribly tragic event,” deVlaming said. Turnbull and his family are relieved the matter has been resolved, he said.

sthompson@tampatrib.com. (727) 215-6504..

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