A close knit Southern Kings community is waiting in hushed silence for the sentencing of Clarence (Chucky) White who was found guilty of two counts of dangerous operation of a vessel causing death in PEI Supreme Court Friday morning.
The Graphic spoke to a handful of Mr White's peers and several industry heads and all declined comment.
The captains of both boats involved in the collision are well known in the area.
"The waiting is the most difficult part, it's gone on for so long," a community member said.
On June 9, 2018, Mr White’s lobster boat, the Forever Chasin’ Tail, was in a collision with a second boat, the Joel ‘98. Justice Gregory Cann determined Mr White had the autopilot on his boat engaged for several minutes when the crash occurred. Justin MacKay and Chris Melanson, who were on board the Joel ‘98, died.
Mr White, age 52, was found not guilty of two counts of criminal negligence causing death.
The victims’ loved ones reacted with sobs as the judge first read out the verdict of not guilty of criminal negligence, then the guilty verdict for dangerous operation.
Court will reconvene October 12 to set a date for sentencing.
In his written ruling, Justice Cann said he could not conclude the allegation from witnesses on the Joel ‘98 that Mr White was not at the wheel when the collision occurred was proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
He found the testimony unreliable because “it is simply too much to expect of these witnesses” in the short time before impact, from their vantage point, to have “made reliable, accurate, visual assessments that the accused was not at the wheel.”
The judge said testimony by Mr White and other witnesses for the defence that he was at the wheel filling out log books was credible, but concluded this occupied his attention to the point his awareness of his surroundings was “profoundly diminished.”
Justice Cann said he accepted evidence from an expert called by the Crown that the Joel ‘98 “would have been readily visible to someone at the wheel of the Forever Chasin’ Tail for at least 10 minutes leading up to the collision.”
He also concluded it would be entirely foreseeable to a reasonable fishing vessel operator that the circumstances posed a risk to the lives and safety of others.
However, the judge determined Mr White’s departure from the standard of conduct of a reasonable vessel operator was not substantial enough to prove criminal negligence beyond a reasonable doubt.
Mr White showed no obvious reaction as he and his lawyer were the first to leave the court room. There were about 20 people in the room when the judge read the verdict.
According to Section 320 of the Criminal Code of Canada, the sentence for two counts of dangerous operation of a conveyance causing death can be anywhere from 30 days to life in prison. The fact more than one person died is an aggravating circumstance to be considered by the court.
Mr White had previously pled guilty to a violation of Section 121 of the Canada Shipping Act and is scheduled to be sentenced on that charge on October 7 in Georgetown Provincial Court.