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Trial begins for boater accused of leaving woman to die

Posted on: 8:15 am, December 10, 2012, by , updated on: 11:45pm, December 10, 2012

OGDEN — A man is on trial in the death of a woman who was hit by a boat in Pineview Reservoir, accused of leaving her to die.

Skyler Shepherd, 22, is facing misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment, obstruction of justice and failure to render aid. He is one of three men charged in connection with Esther Fujimoto’s death after she was struck by a boat propeller.

Shepherd said nothing as he walked into court on Monday. Fujimoto’s family said they were hoping for some measure of justice in his trial.

“We’re heartbroken with the loss of our sister,” said Bryan Fujimoto. “And at the same time, that has to be tempered with the anguish of outrage. It was outrageous, the circumstances under which she died.”

Fujimoto, a University of Utah researcher, was swimming in Pineview Reservoir on Aug. 21, 2011, when prosecutors allege she was struck by Shepherd’s boat. In opening statements, lawyers in the case presented two versions of events.

Prosecutors claim that after hitting her, the three men looked down at her in the water and asked: “Lady, are you OK?” Shepherd then sped off at a high rate of speed wanting to “get the hell out of Dodge,” prosecutors allege.

“They come back, talk to her and take off,” deputy Weber County Attorney Teral Tree told the jury in his opening statement. “They sealed her fate.”

But defense attorney Glen Neeley told the jury that the men on the boat, Shepherd, Colton Raines and Cole Boyer, thought they had missed her. They heard her yell, he said, and believed they had just made her angry.

“As far as they were concerned, she was just mad at them,” Neeley said.

After the boat had left, prosecutors said a man heard her screams and rowed out to her. He called 911 and held Fujimoto’s head above water until paramedics could arrive. She was pronounced dead a short time later.

The state medical examiner testified on Monday that Fujimoto died from multiple “chopping injuries of her pelvis and lower legs,” consistent with a boat propeller. The jury was shown gruesome pictures from the scene of her death, as well as photographs taken during her autopsy. One juror appeared visibly shaken by the images.

Dr. Todd Grey testified that if immediate first aid had been rendered by Shepherd, Raines and Boyer, she would not have died so quickly. He could not say if she would have survived, but said her death was “horribly painful.”

Prosecutors also accuse the men of not reporting the accident to police. Shepherd’s defense attorney said he has a constitutional right not to talk to police. He may have a right to remain silent, prosecutors insisted, but he was duty bound to report the accident.

Deputy Weber County Attorney Dean Saunders told FOX 13 outside of court that if the men had stopped, charges would likely never have been filed.

“This was a case that didn’t need to happen,” he said. “If they would have helped her immediately, and gotten her immediate medical attention, we probably never would have charged them with anything in the first place. It was them leaving her there, in the position that she was, that led to her death.”

The trial is expected to wrap up by Thursday. Raines and Boyer are scheduled to go on trial in February.