The manslaughter case against a Pleasant Valley man remains in the hands of the prosecution as the trial resumes on Monday.
The state put 26 witnesses on the stand, including 10 who said they saw a large boat belonging to James Thiel Sr. race another boat along the LeClaire Seawall moments before it crashed with a smaller boat, killing the two occupants of the smaller boat.
Thiel faces two felony charges and two aggravated misdemeanors in the deaths of Anita Pinc, 52, and Craig Verbeke, 61, both of Moline.
Thiel was not operating his 35-foot, three-engine Triton vessel, but he is charged with aiding and abetting the 15-year-old who was at the wheel on Aug. 16, 2020. Scott County District Attorney Mike Walton explained in his opening statement that prosecutors intend to prove that Thiel acted recklessly, recklessly and negligently.
Two of the charges accuse the owner of the car dealership of acting in a manner likely to cause death or serious injury. Thiel was also charged with one count of reckless use of a watercraft and one count of operating an unregistered watercraft. He pleaded not guilty to all counts.
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Several witnesses used the word “reckless” to describe a high-speed coast-to-coast race near LeClaire’s shore one evening when many boats were on the Mississippi River. Some said Thiel’s boat and Ethan Mahler’s almost collided and/or the Twilight riverboat that was moored to the seawall as they raced downstream.
Mahler spoke out last week and denied racing with Thiel’s boat. He said he only saw Thiel once after he left the sandpits near Cordoba as he headed south toward his cabin near the Interstate 80 bridge.
Further testimony came from several conservation officers and witnesses to the accident reconstruction. In one instance, an officer’s body-worn camera showed interviews with Thiel and the 15-year-old boat operator describing what had happened.
While the 15-year-old told investigators that Verbeke’s 19ft Bayliner hit the Triton, investigators showed jurors what they said was evidence that Thiel’s boat crashed into the 19 foot bayliner from Verbeke.
The teenager also estimated he was traveling at 35-40mph, but the DNR said an on-board navigation recording would show the Triton was traveling at around 60mph at the time of the collision. Thiel’s attorney, Leon Spies, told jurors there was no speed limit on the river where the accident happened.
The minor is supposed to speak.
On Monday, jurors could be escorted from court to LeClaire to tour the crash site and then to a storage facility in McCausland to view the two damaged vessels.
Walton and Assistant County Attorney Amy Devine repeatedly showed a photo of the Thiel and Verbeke boats on video screens in the courtroom. The photo was taken with the boats side by side, showing the difference in size between the Triton and the Bayliner.
Alcohol use was a theme as several investigators reported that Thiel smelled of alcohol at the scene. He refused a breath test, but Verbeke’s blood alcohol level was measured, showing he was above the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle.
The third-floor courtroom was nearly full during the trial last week, as around 40 family members and friends from both sides of the case watched the proceedings.
The jury is made up of 10 women and five men, including three substitute jurors.
Photos: James Thiel Sr. is on trial in the 2020 fatal boating accident in LeClaire