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911 call's tape recounts efforts to save Pineview swimmer struck by boat

Published July 28, 2012 7:16 am

Courts • Audio tape was played at hearing for three boaters facing misdemeanor counts.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Ogden » Weber County authorities this week released the tape of a dramatic 911 call from a man who tried to rescue a dying woman hit by a motor boat while swimming last year in Pineview Reservoir.

The tape was played last week during a 2nd District Court preliminary hearing for the three boaters, who are charged with misdemeanors in connection with the death of 49-year-old Esther Fujimoto.

Last August, Vaughn Anderson, held a cellphone in one hand and Fujimoto's dying body in the other during the desperate emergency call.

"I can't pull her in the boat," a panicked Anderson told an emergency dispatcher. "She's cut bad."

As the call went on, Anderson grew increasingly frantic.

"I don't know what to do," he cried.

He begged the woman to stay with him; he asked her for her name. He watched as patrol cars zoomed past and pleaded with the dispatcher to tell them to turn down his street.

"They went past again!" he yelled.

"She's dying!"

"Hurry!"

He cried and cursed as the wind and swells, some a foot tall with whitecaps, pushed him and his boat and Fujimoto around the Spring Creek inlet.

Anderson, who has lived near Pineview Reservoir's shores for most of life, testified in court that the sound of motorboats had become "background noise" that he barely notices. But on the evening of Aug. 21, 2011, screams, at least three of them, caught his attention.

He ran to a knoll overlooking the water and saw three men in a boat. Twice, Anderson said, he heard the men say, "Hey, lady, are you OK?" And when the boat left, heading west toward the setting sun, he saw someone bobbing in the water.

Anderson rowed out to the woman, some 300 feet off the shoreline, and called 911 to report she had been horribly injured.

The injuries were inflicted by a boat occupied by Colton Raines, 22, Robert Cole Boyer, 30, and Skyler Shepherd, 22 — who were ordered to stand trial following last week's hearing.

All three are charged with class A misdemeanor obstructing justice. Raines and Shepherd also are charged with class A misdemeanor reckless endangerment and class B misdemeanor failure to render aid.

The men had spent Aug. 21 wakeboarding with friends and later hanging out at a place they called "Party Cove." Those who were with them told investigators there was a cooler filled with cans of beer, whipped cream flavored vodka and spiced rum, according to testimony Thursday. Raines and Boyer allegedly smoked marijuana, though none of the men tested positive for the drug roughly 10 days later.

At the end of the day, one group of friends left the cove in their boat and headed back to the pullout. But Raines wanted to make "one more run" through another part of the lake, Weber County sheriff's detective Don Kelly testified.

As Raines steered the boat for a loop through the Spring Creek inlet, he swerved abruptly and stopped. "Did you see that?" the man reportedly asked.

With Raines too shaken to drive, Shepherd took the wheel and circled the boat back toward Fujimoto to ask if she was all right. In an interview, Shepherd told Kelly that Fujimito said, "Yeah," and then grunted. The men said they thought she was angry with them for coming so close to her, according to testimony.

Chief Medical Examiner Todd Grey doubted the story.

Fujimito had severe injuries to her lower abdomen. Her legs were "chopped to pieces," her femoral artery had been cut and she was bleeding to death.

"I think these would be horribly painful injuries," Grey testified last week.

The three men left Fujimoto, drove to the pullout, loaded the boat on a trailer and wiped it down, leading to misdemeanor obstruction of justice charges. But defense attorney Rebecca Hyde Skordas, who represents Boyer, argued it was common practice to wipe down a boat; the other boaters in the group had done the same thing.

As the men tried to leave the reservoir, police had barricaded the area, looking for the hit-and-run boaters. Shepherd, who turned himself in to police a few days later, told the detective he said nothing at the time because they were afraid.

"They were afraid so they didn't say anything," Kelly said. "They were fearful something happened."

After Fujimoto's death, the Utah Legislature amended the law to require boaters to stop if they have "reason to believe" they could have been in an accident, and allowing prosecutors to file felony charges in fatal situations.

Defense attorneys argued endangerment charges were inappropriate. Fujimoto was not in one of the reservoir's two designated swimming areas, and the men did nothing wrong leading up to the crash.

The state is "sort of trying to recreate the facts here," Greg Skordas, representing Raines, told the judge, "because she was hit, therefore somebody must have done something wrong."

Weber County prosecutor Dean Saunders said the men had a "duty" to stop and help Fujimoto. Saunders said the charges against the men are not about the crash, but about what happened after.

"By leaving her there in the water, they sealed her fate," he said.

It took Anderson about five minutes to reach Fujimoto — precious moments that could have maybe saved her life, Saunders said.

But if they had stayed, would it have been enough?

A tourniquet might have helped save her, the medical examiner said, but more likely someone would have needed to clamp down on an artery in the wound to slow the bleeding, Grey testified, maybe with a pair of pliers.

But even in an emergency room, it would have been difficult, he said.

Shepherd's defense attorney, Glen Neeley, insisted: "There is nothing these boys could have done to save her life."

— Tribune reporter Jessica Miller contributed to this story.

afalk@sltrib.com