MANDEL: ‘They just left.’ Witness recounts O’Leary boat leaving after crash

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If this was Linda O’Leary she was describing — it was not a flattering look.

A passenger on the boat rammed by O’Leary two years ago was describing to the Parry Sound court what she remembered being said just moments after the deadly crash.

And it wasn’t what you would expect. There was no ‘Are you okay?’ or ‘What can we do to help?’

“The woman did all the talking at first,” recalled Cathryn Hibbard, who was testifying by videolink from her native Buffalo. “And it was kind of, like, you know, ‘You hit us.’

“I don’t remember the actual words but it sounded like she was, not confrontational, but pissed or b—-y a little bit, excuse my language.

“I honestly thought she was a teenager that had hit our boat. We did have words. I think the gentleman spoke one sentence but she was doing the majority of the talking.”

O’Leary, wife of “Mr. Wonderful” celebrity millionaire Kevin O’Leary, has pleaded not guilty to careless operation of a vessel under the Canada Shipping Act. If convicted, she faces a maximum $10,000 fine.

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O’Leary was driving her husband and another woman back to their lakefront mansion when she collided with the 23-foot Super Air Nautique wakeboard boat at 11:30 p.m. on Aug. 24, 2019.

Of the dozen passengers onboard the Nautique, two would die from their injuries: Gary Poltash, 64, from Florida and Suzana Brito, 48, a mother of three from Uxbridge.

Defence lawyer Brian Greenspan has suggested to every Crown witness so far that footage from shore shows the lights on the Nautique had been turned off, likely so they could better see the stars, creating an invisible hazard for his client.

Dr. Richard Ruh, who was driving his friend’s Nautique at the time, was fined $125 for not displaying his stern light, a charge he still denies.

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Hibbard said she believed there were lights on inside their boat, but couldn’t see if the exterior navigation lights were also on.

She and her husband had come up for the weekend to visit Ruh, who was leasing a cottage on Lake Joe. They’d joined other guests at a dinner party hosted by Dr. Irv Edwards and then all went stargazing on his “huge” new Nautique.

“It was absolutely silent, quiet, serene,” she recalled of the dark night as Ruh, who’d taken over at the helm, cut the engine and let them float near Emerald Island.

Susan Auricchio, another guest of Ruh’s that weekend from Buffalo, suddenly noticed lights coming straight for them. And they were moving “very fast.”

She braced for impact.

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

“I could tell it was going to collide with us and we didn’t have time to move out of the way,” she testified, also by videolink. “I believe I said, ‘That boat is going to hit us.’ I don’t know if anybody heard me.”

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Hibbard did. “And then boom, impact,” she recalled.

“There was just no warning, it came out of nowhere,” she said. “That boat had to have been going at a really high rate of speed.”

She heard fibreglass crunching fibreglass as the O’Leary boat landed on the starboard side of their bow before sliding back down into the water. “One minute we were still. The next instant there was a boat on top of our boat.”

Hibbard said they asked if anyone was hurt in the other vessel. They were told everyone was fine. Her husband then informed the people in the O’Leary boat that they had very serious injuries in the Nautique.

Poltash had suffered a fatal skull fracture and Brito was unconscious and not breathing. “It was very apparent to all at the scene that these were gruesome injuries that were life-threatening,” Hibbard explained.

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They called 911 and informed the other boat that they were heading to Rocky Crest resort to meet the paramedics, she said. Kevin O’Leary would issue a statement after the collision accusing the Nautique of having “fled the scene.”


  1. MANDEL: Invisible or brightly lit? Driver denies shutting lights of boat hit by Linda O’Leary

  2. Businessman and television personality Kevin O'Leary and his wife Linda arrive at the 2014 Elton John AIDS Foundation Oscar Party in West Hollywood, California March 2, 2014.

    ‘A HUGE IMPACT’: Owner of boat hit by Linda O’Leary testifies at trial

  3. None

    KEVIN O’LEARY BOAT TRAGEDY: Conflicting stories on fatal collision

Hibbard was surprised by what happened next.

“They left. They didn’t follow us. They just left in another direction,” she said. “What it felt (like) to me is they hit us and … I felt like she was probably going home to say, ‘What do I do now?”

The trial continues.

mmandel@postmedia.com

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