, Salem, MA


January 20, 2014

Westfield man appeals conviction in boy's boat death

BOSTON — The details of the boating crash were haunting: A power boat slammed into a man and his 10-year-old son fishing from a kayak, shearing off the boy’s left arm and puncturing his lung as his distraught father tried in vain to save him.

Prosecutors said the boat driver, Steven Morse, was impaired by alcohol and marijuana when he hit Gus Adamopoulos and his father. Morse contended that he was temporarily blinded by sun glare off the lake while pulling a friend on water skis.

Next month, the state’s highest court will be asked to consider whether Morse’s convictions for misdemeanor homicide by vessel and misleading a police officer should be overturned.

Morse’s lawyer argues that prosecutors didn’t prove he was impaired. He passed several field sobriety tests and two breath tests that night.

Prosecutors presented testimony that Morse drank five beers and smoked marijuana three times in the hours before the crash. They also called a drug recognition expert who testified that the combined effects of alcohol and marijuana can cause impaired perception of time and distance, judgment and critical thinking.

Morse, of Westfield, insists he wasn’t impaired when he took the boat out on Norwich Lake in Huntington on Aug. 17, 2010.

His appellate lawyer said the state’s expert testified only generally about how alcohol and marijuana might affect someone.

“(The expert’s) testimony told the jury nothing about what the actual effects of Mr. Morse’s consumption of beer and marijuana actually or even likely were, and instead only told them what they could have been,” Merritt Schnipper wrote in a legal brief.

Prosecutors offered two theories under the charge of homicide by vessel: Morse was negligent because he didn’t slow down or take any other evasive action when he became blinded by the sun, or he operated the boat under the influence of an intoxicating substance. The judge told the jury that if they found Morse guilty, they had to specify which theory they believed.

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