ROAD TOWN, Tortola, BVI – A New Zealand boat captain found guilty of the manslaughter of two passengers on a pleasure cruise in the British Virgin Islands has walked free from court.
After a lengthy and often emotional trial, Stephen Fossi, 47, was found guilty of two counts of manslaughter this week and fined $90,000 by the High Court in the Caribbean territory. By paying the fine he avoided a two-year prison sentence.
The court heard he had been having an affair with one of the victims, whose body was attacked by sharks after the crash.
The defendant was accused of crashing the 33-foot vessel Inevitable into rocks early on January 24 last year, killing passengers Kari Anne Way, 27, of the United States, and Howard Anderson, of Jamaica.
Prosecutor Valston Graham told the court Fossi was under the influence of alcohol and drove the vessel at an unsafe speed, failed to ensure that his passengers were wearing lifejackets, and neglected to turn on the GPS.
Graham said Fossi was not the kind of man that jurors should trust, given that he had admitted having an affair with Way and hiding it from his wife.
Fossi testified last week, claiming he was unsure how the crash occurred, as he has no memory of the moments leading up to the collision, but adamantly denied being intoxicated.
“I wish I could remember what happened,” he said.
He believes a head injury he sustained in the accident caused memory loss.
At the time of the incident Fossi was employed as the director of marine operations for Oil Nut Bay, an exclusive resort community on Virgin Gorda, the third-largest island in the archipelago.
He told the court that on the day of the crash he caught up with some co-workers at the resort at about 6pm, and drove them on the Inevitable to a yacht club where the group spent five hours eating, drinking alcoholic beverages, and playing pool.
Shortly after 11 p.m., they moved on to a bar and cave in Spanish Town, the second-largest town in the territory.
Over the course of the evening, he had pizza, fries and a steak sandwich, and drank a vodka soda, two shots and two-and-a-half beers.
Fossi said the group eventually re-boarded the Inevitable with the intention of returning to Oil Nut Bay, and acknowledged that he was at the wheel when the boat departed from Spanish Town.
However, Fossi said he cannot remember if he remained at the helm, and said there is a possibility he had given the wheel to Way.
Mincainton Laurent, who was on board during the crash, testified that he heard Way ask to steer, but said he did not notice if she was permitted to drive.
Laurent said the boat crashed into the rocks a few minutes later, and recalled hearing the cries and screams of other passengers.
Forensic pathologist Dr Benjamin Mathis, who performed autopsies on Anderson and Way, told jurors that both victims suffered from blunt force injuries.
Way’s body, which was recovered from the water, showed signs of scavenging by sharks.
Defence lawyer Rebecca Trowler argued there was no evidence to prove that Fossi was impaired by alcohol during the incident, or that he was even still driving the vessel when it ran into the rocks, as police failed to collect fingerprints or blood swabs from the scene.
The jury, however, ultimately found Fossi guilty of two counts of manslaughter, and Justice Nicola Byer ordered him to pay $45,000 per count by February 29, or serve two years in prison.
At sentencing, Justice Byer said she took into account Fossi’s previous good character, and that he had cooperated with police and the courts.
She said he already suffered from emotional trauma, as the people killed in the incident were his co-workers and friends.
Way’s mother Kris, who came from Michigan to attend the trial, said hearing the details of the crash was “horrible” but it had been important to represent her daughter, who had four sisters.