A collision involving a Coast Guard vessel and a pleasure boat that killed an 8-year-old boy during a Christmas parade in San Diego Bay was a tragedy that shouldn't be mistaken for a crime, a lawyer for a petty officer charged in the crash told jurors as his court-martial began Monday.
In opening statements, prosecutors countered that Petty Officer Paul Ramos was driving the boat too fast on the crowded bay and failed to follow safety procedures.
The Coast Guard vessel thundered atop the pleasure boat of Alan DeWeese, killing his son Anthony and injuring five other people.
"This collision was entirely avoidable," said Coast Guard prosecutor Lt. Cmdr. Doug Daniels, who showed a photo of young Anthony DeWeese to jurors.
Defense attorney Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Myers complained about the use of Anthony's photo and cautioned jurors not to let emotion cloud their judgment.
"There had been a rush to judgment in this case from the beginning," Myers said, maintaining that Ramos was driving at a safe operating speed at the time. "You should not let emotion turn a mishap into a crime."
Ramos has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, aggravated assault, hazarding a vessel and dereliction of duty.
A jury of seven Coast Guard members was expected to hear evidence at Coast Guard headquarters in Alameda through March 25. Among the first witnesses expected to take the stand Monday is Alan DeWeese.
Ramos was responding to a report of a boat stuck in mud when he took off into the bay on Dec. 20, 2009, during the annual Parade of Lights festival, a city tradition featuring boats festooned with lights.
DeWeese, who was hosting two other families on his 26-foot boat, previously told National Transportation Safety Board investigators the Coast Guard vessel came at him at an estimated 30 to 40 knots -- or 35 to 46 mph -- after a fireworks display.
One Coast Guard crew member estimated the Coast Guard boat was going 20 to 25 knots, according to an NTSB transcript.
DeWeese said he hit the throttle and turned right, but it was too late. After the boat struck, he found two of his sons safe. He came across Anthony face-down in a pile of life jackets, "not moving, not conscious, just in a weird position," DeWeese has said.
The NTSB, which has released more than 4,000 pages of documents, has not said what caused the crash.
Ian Howell, the highest-ranking member of the patrol boat crew, faces a court-martial in May on charges of negligent homicide, assault, negligence with a boat and dereliction of duty. He pleaded not guilty.
There were three other crew members. Brittany Rasmussen was reprimanded but avoided time in the brig after pleading guilty to dereliction of duty in military court.
The Coast Guard dropped a charge of dereliction of duty against Lavelle Teague. Jarett Koelmel was never charged.