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Judge: State can't view tests in boat death case

Judge: State can't view tests in boat death case

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CLINTON — Tests performed on two boats involved in a fatal accident at Clinton Lake last year will not be observed by state conservation officials, a DeWitt County judge ruled Tuesday.

The hearing involved criminal charges against Byron Thompson, 28, of Bloomington. Thompson is charged with reckless homicide, aggravated reckless operation of a watercraft, failure to render assistance and operating a watercraft under the influence of alcohol.

Thompson is accused of being the operator of an 18-foot speedboat that struck an anchored pontoon boat about 9:30 p.m. July 7 at Clinton Lake.

Killed in the collision was Robert E. Tharp, 82, of Farmer City. Five other passengers on the boat were injured.

Thompson and one of his passengers were thrown from the speedboat but were not seriously hurt.

Bloomington defense attorney Steve Skelton objected Tuesday to a request from DeWitt County State’s Attorney Jerry Johnson that the state Department of Natural Resources observe tests performed by the defense in preparation for an August trial.

Johnson told the court he is concerned that the damaged boats could be altered and evidence lost during tests.

“I doubt the defense will be able to re-create anything close to the original conditions before the accident,” said Johnson.

Skelton countered that the state has no right to observe defense tests.

“I don’t want somebody in a green suit in my pocket. I object to having someone looking over my shoulder,” said Skelton.

Peters agreed with Skelton that the state cannot observe tests that may involve putting the boats back in the water.

However, the state may be present when tests are performed on a portion of a light taken from the pontoon boat, Peters ruled. There is some question whether the pontoon boat’s lights were on as required by law.

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