By James Keller, The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER – A mariner who was in charge of a passenger ferry the night the vessel struck an island and sank off the coast of British Columbia, killing two passengers, has lost an appeal of his criminal negligence convictions.
Karl Lilgert was convicted last year of criminal negligence causing death and sentenced to four years for the March 2006 sinking of the Queen of the North. Two passengers, Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette, disappeared and were presumed drowned.
The Crown’s theory at trial was that Lilgert missed a scheduled turn and sailed into a remote island because he was distracted by his ex-lover, who was on the bridge with him that night.
Lilgert, on the other hand, told the jury he was busy navigating the ship in difficult conditions and he didn’t know why it crashed.
Lilgert’s lawyer argued during the appeal that the trial judge made numerous errors in her instructions to the jury, particularly when she explained the offence of criminal negligence and how Lilgert’s explanation should have factored into their deliberations.
But in a unanimous ruling released Tuesday, the B.C. Court of Appeal found nothing wrong with the judge’s instructions and said it was obvious the jury simply did not believe Lilgert.
“The Crown presented a powerful case to answer,” Justice Ian Donald wrote on behalf of the three-judge appeal panel.
“The jury must have accepted the Crown’s navigational evidence and found that the appellant’s account gave them no reasonable doubt about his guilt.”
The trial, which was heard over several months last year, featured dramatic eye-witness accounts, expert testimony and sensational details about Lilgert’s personal life.
The Queen of the North set out from Prince Rupert, on the northern B.C. coast, on a routine overnight voyage to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island with 101 passengers and crew on board.
Several hours into the sailing, Lilgert found himself alone on the bridge with quartermaster Karen Briker. The pair had recently ended a sexual affair and it was their first time working alone together since the breakup.
As the ship exited a narrow channel along a remote section of coast, the ferry should have made a left turn. Instead, it travelled in a straight line at full speed for more than 10 minutes on a collision course with the island.
The Crown suggested Lilgert did nothing to navigate the ship and that he wasn’t paying attention because he and Briker were either arguing or possibly having sex. Prosecutors accused both of lying during their testimony.
Lilgert and Briker denied their affair had anything to do with the sinking. Lilgert told the jury he ordered several turns and was monitoring the ship’s position with its navigational equipment, though he said he could not explain why the ferry nevertheless collided with the island.
The trial ended without a clear explanation for what actually happened on the bridge that night.
When Judge Sunni Stromberg-Stein, who now sits on the Appeal Court, sentenced the man, she said Lilgert and Briker’s relationship clearly played a role in the sinking.
Lilgert, who now lives in Grand Forks, B.C., had been out on bail while awaiting the Appeal Court’s decision.
His lawyer could not be immediately reached for comment.
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