Ogden •Three men accused in the death of a University of Utah scientist last August at Pineview Reservoir made their first court appearance Wednesday — the same day the Utah Senate passed a bill making hit-and-run boating accidents a crime.
The Senate voted 27-0 to approve HB92 sponsored by Rep. Richard Greenwood, R-Roy, and sent it to Gov. Gary Herbert for his signature.
Greenwood introduced the bill after Esther Fujimoto, 49, was killed by a boat’s propeller while swimming in Pineview Reservoir last summer, and the boaters fled.
The bill makes it a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, for leaving the scene of a boating accident involving serious injury or death. The bill makes leaving after a less serious injury a misdemeanor.
The boaters — Colton Raines, 22; Robert Cole Boyer, 22; and Skyler Shepherd, 21 — are charged in 2nd District Court with misdemeanor counts that are punishable, at most, by up to a year in jail.
All three men are charged with a class A misdemeanor count of obstructing justice. Raines and Shepherd also are charged with class A misdemeanor reckless endangerment and class B misdemeanor failure to render aid.
Said Attorney Greg Skordas who represents Raines and Boyer: “I don’t think there was a crime, but I’m always open to being educated.” Skordas added that he has more than 500 pages of police reports and six CDs to look through before knowing exactly what happened.
The men are to appear again before Judge Ernie Jones on April 25 for a scheduling hearing.
Denice Fujimoto, Esther’s sister, has filed a wrongful-death civil lawsuit against the men, claiming they had been drinking and smoking marijuana on Aug. 21 when their boat hit Fujimoto.
Denice Fujimoto, the only family member to attend the hearing on Wednesday, said later she was “still shaken” after being in the same room for the first time with the three defendants, who were gathered together at the podium dressed in suits and ties.
“I couldn’t even look at them,” Denice Fujimoto said.
Her brother, Bryan Fujimoto, who lives out of state, said in a phone interview it was “upsetting” that his sister’s death had to occur before hit-and-run boating legislation was passed. But “we the family, are extremely pleased” with the passage of the bill, he added.
Skordas wrote in connection with the civil suit that Fujimoto “assumed certain risks when she chose to swim in open water without taking precautions to alert others of her presence.”
HB92 had been caught up in a power struggle between Greenwood and Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Margaret Dayton, R-Orem.
Greenwood complained that Dayton had held up the bill — which received no opposition in either House — in retaliation for Greenwood amending an unrelated Dayton bill. The House eventually erased that amendment, and the boating bill began advancing again.