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Pineview boaters sentenced to maximum jail time in swimmer's death

Published March 28, 2013 8:36 am

Courts • 2 men who left swimmer to die showed a "complete disregard for human life," judge says.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Ogden • The boaters sentenced Wednesday to serve the maximum possible jail time in the 2011 death of a swimmer at Pineview reservoir are not the same men who left the woman alone and bleeding in choppy waters two years ago, defense attorneys said.

Back then, the men were scared. They were sorry. They told friends and family that they never would have left had they known the woman was in peril.

Colton Raines, 23, and Robert Cole Boyer, 30, have been changed by the trial, ostracized by their communities, hardened by months of intense media coverage.

This, defense attorneys said, is why the men offered no apology, why they did not shed tears, why they did not turn to face the family of victim Esther Fujimoto.

But to 2nd District Judge Ernie Jones, their coldness was more than just cynicism. It showed a lack of remorse for their victim, now and then.

"It is absolutely callous and reckless," Jones said. "There is an absence of caring here about the welfare of another human being, a complete disregard for human life."

Raines was ordered to serve 2½ years in jail on charges of misdemeanor reckless endangerment, obstruction of justice and failure to render aid.

Boyer, convicted of obstruction of justice, will serve one year behind bars.

The victim's brother, Bryan Fujimoto, was pleased the judge imposed the maximum possible penalty on the men he referred to only as "criminals."

"A debt to society had to be paid," he said. "Justice was served."

The slight man, dressed in a beige suit and tie, spoke of the day his sister died and the pain his family has suffered since in an address to the court before the defendants' sentences were handed down. His hands shook, clutching the statement of his family:

"Three criminals have been found guilty of these crimes," he said. "There have been two trials in front of two different juries who all said, 'We don't believe you. You guys are lying.' "

At trial last month, Raines and Boyer each testified they didn't realize their boat had hit 49-year-old Esther Fujimoto, or that she was fatally injured when they left her and motored away the evening of Aug. 21, 2011.

Raines and Boyer were out on the water in Pineview reservoir along with boat owner Skyler Shepherd — who is serving 2½ years in jail for the same crime — when Raines, who was driving, saw a swimmer wearing black and swerved to miss her.

Shepherd has told police that he took the wheel from Raines, turned the boat around and went to check on the swimmer.

Shepherd claimed he asked the woman twice if she was OK, and that she responded with "Yeah," and a loud grunt.

"[She was] just mad," Shepherd told a detective. "Just like pissed off. I thought to myself, well sh—, if someone came close to me, I'd be pissed, too."

The three men then drove away, leaving the woman bleeding from deep wounds made by the boat's propeller.

When they reached the dock, the judge said, they made a choice — the choice that would earn them all time behind bars.

"That's when they met the wildlife rescue people who told them a woman was hit on the water," Jones said. "They knew at that point what happened, they knew it wasn't a near miss. But their position was, 'Gee, we don't know anything about that.' Their response was simply to play dumb."

Fujimoto was left alone in the waves until a man on shore heard her cries for help and rowed out more than 300 yards to find her.

The man, Vaughn Anderson, held the dying woman in his arms as he called 911. But by the time Weber County sheriff's deputies arrived, she was dead.

Marsha Winter, a cousin of Raines, said Fujimoto shouldn't have been swimming in the reservoir when and where she was. Winter bristled at the implication that her cousin had been on drugs at the time and said Fujimoto was "asking" to get hit by a boat.

"She was an accident waiting to happen," Winter said outside the courtroom Wednesday. "She had no business being out there. ... And the boys did ask her if she was OK. I know nobody believes it now, but she told them to leave. She was nasty and told them to leave, so they left."

Prosecutors dismissed these claims, saying the area where Fujimoto swam was not frequented by boaters because the water was so shallow.

Twitter: @marissa_jae

mlang@sltrib.com