Oliver Norman Bodden, 72, of Windsor Park was one of four fishermen who did not make it safely ashore when their boat sank on the night of 29 November, 2005.
A Coroner’s Jury returned a verdict of death by misadventure after hearing from the other fishermen and from government pathologist Dr. John Heidingsfelder.
Jurors also heard that when the boat was examined, it did not have a plug.
The first witness was Mr. Errol Blair who said Mr. Bodden drove the boat. They left from South Sound dock and headed east for 20 or 30 minutes to get to a spot off Beach Bay.
When they reached the location, the anchor was thrown overboard. Mr. Petrie was the first to throw out a line.
Mr. Blair said he was sitting on the cooler almost at the back of the boat. As he was putting bait on his line, he heard something like a river running underneath. It was dark by this time.
Then water splashed over the back of the boat. The boat started to tilt. He asked Mr. Bodden to start the engine. Mr. Bodden turned the key twice but got no response. By that time the boat started to slide back into the water and everyone jumped out.
He hung onto a cooler. The men called to each other several times. He saw a light at Beach Bay and headed toward it, telling the others to head to shore.
Mr. Blair said it took him a half hour or more to get to shore. He headed toward a condo and saw someone. He yelled to the person to call 911.
Later he and an officer were walking up and down calling and they found Mr. Petrie, but he never saw the others again.
Mr. Elio Lescay said after they dropped anchor the men spread out on the boat to spread the weight. Water was quickly entering from the back. He grabbed a spare gas tank.
In the water, the men called to each other and answered about three times. Then there was no answer and he thought the others had drowned. He made it to shore and walked in the bush all night.
Mr. Petrie, the owner of the boat, said it started taking on water between 7.30 and 8pm. He rushed to the back and asked Mr. Norman why water was coming in. He said Mr. Norman suggested that the plug wasn’t in.
In the water, he and Mr. Norman talked to each other. Mr. Norman told him to hang onto a cooler and swim toward the lights.
Eventually Mr. Petrie made it to the ironshore. Two men in uniform brought him a pair of boots and helped him over the cliff.
Queen’s Coroner Margaret Ramsay-Hale asked him about the boat and the plug. Mr. Petrie said Mr. Norman took the plug out and didn’t remember to put it back in.
The coroner asked why Mr. Norman would take it out. Mr. Petrie said to drain the water out.
The coroner asked why Mr. Norman would do that and not the owner of the boat.
Mr. Petrie, who earlier described Mr. Norman as an experienced seaman, said Mr. Norman was the one who was responsible for the boat in terms of the whole operation of it, including maintenance and being captain when they went out to sea.
The coroner referred to a statement Mr. Petrie gave to police last December. In it, he said he knew for sure the plug was in the boat. The last time he saw it was the day before, when he had cleaned the boat and done some repairs.
Questioned further, Mr. Petrie said he had bought a switch for the bilge pump and he asked the technician to replace it. They got a hose and put water in the boat to test the pump. The pump worked well and they didn’t touch the plug at all.
The plug was in.
The coroner reminded him that he had told police he asked his mother to screw it in and asked who had taken it out.
Mr. Petrie said the plug was removed to draw the water out after fishing a couple of days before.
When the technician came to fix the bilge pump switch, the plug was out. He said he asked his mother to screw the plug in so they could put water in to test the pump. He asked his mother because he was in the boat and she was behind it.
Mr. Petrie said he knew he had tightened the plug and he knew he screwed it in properly. He never saw Mr. Norman take the plug out: he was going by what Mr. Norman told him in the boat.
Asked why Mr. Norman would have removed the plug, he said it would be to drain the water. Asked if there was water in the boat, he said he did not remember if it had rained.
His final evidence was that Mr. Norman took the plug out and didn’t put it back. He acknowledged that the boat did not have a working radio.
The coroner read a statement from Mr. Bodden’s wife. She said he went fishing three or four times a week. He had suffered a heart condition in 2003 and in January 2004 had a pacemaker installed. He took his medicine and never had problems.
He did get sick after Hurricane Ivan in September 2004. In June 2005 she got him to get a check-up and there were no problems.
Mrs. Bodden said her husband was an experienced seaman who could swim very well.
Dr. Heidingsfelder discussed the autopsy report filed by Dr. Nadia Williams. He said the weight of the lungs and the frothy material found in the airways were consistent with drowning.
Asked about Mr. Bodden’s heart, Dr. Heidingsfelder said there was no question he would have had a decrease in his heart’s ability to pump blood in a time of extreme stress. It was very possible his heart condition may have incapacitated him in the water at some point and, in that way, contributed to his drowning.
Inspector Brad Ebanks, in charge of the Marine Unit, said he received a report of the missing men at 8.37pm. Other vessels and the helicopter were involved in the search.
Mr. Norman was found floating in the sea off Beach Bay around 10.25pm. He said Mr. Norman had his arms clenched around a white bucket. His head was being submerged in the wave action.
Mr. Ebanks said he shone his flashlight in the older man’s eyes, but there was no dilation.
There was no evidence of safety equipment, neither vests nor flares nor strobes. These might have increased the chance of Mr. Bodden’s survival, Mr. Ebanks said.
The jurors were to decide the facts and they were the ones who had to decide if they accepted Mr. Petrie as a witness of truth.
If they found he was the one who removed the plug that would not preclude a verdict of misadventure if they found it was mere carelessness rather than criminal negligence.
Before they could return an open verdict they had to be satisfied that the boat owner lied and, in forgetting the plug or in not screwing it in properly, his conduct was so criminally negligent that he should be prosecuted.
She pointed out that a verdict of misadventure did not mean that the owner could not be held responsible in a civil court.