Dr. Joseph Yurich, an Ohio surgeon, has been convicted of the lesser included charge of vehicular homicide for his role in a deadly midnight boating crash on Berlin Reservoir in May 2015. He was found not guilty of aggravated vehicular assault and operating a watercraft while impaired. The judge said that there was not enough evidence to establish that he was impaired by alcohol. He was also convicted of leaving the scene of an accident.
The crash left Brian Cuppett, of Akron, dead, and Bruce Lindamood injured. The two were fishing when Yurich rammed into their boat, testimony revealed.
Judge John M. Durkin of the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court rendered the verdict. Yurich chose to be tried by the judge, not a jury.
The verdict leaves Dr. Yurich with two convictions on what are generally first-degree misdemeanors. The general penalty in Ohio for vehicular homicide is a jail sentence of up to six months and a mandatory license revocation of between one and five years. The general penalty for leaving the scene of an accident is up to six months in jail, up to $500 in fines, and a minimum of six months for a license revocation. Though this is a boating accident, the statute appears to make no distinction between the loss of boating privileges and the loss of driving privileges.
Prosecutor Dawn Cantalamessa presented evidence at trial that Yurich had been drinking with friends in the hours before the crash; however, blood and urine samples taken by police after the crash were inadmissible, the judge ruled, because they had not been refrigerated under Ohio health regulations. Local reports state the tests revealed a blood alcohol of .152, well above the legal limit of .08. Prosecutors at a pre-trial hearing presented scientific evidence that the lack of refrigeration would not have materially affected the accuracy of the tests on those samples. The judge agreed that the blood alcohol levels detected in the unrefrigerated samples were accurate, but he refused to admit the results into evidence, citing the health regulation raised by the defense. Police testified they weren’t even aware that the regulation which required refrigeration applied to them.
The samples had been drawn just before a three-hour window had closed.
The inadmissibility of the samples as evidence further led the judge to dismiss one of the charges of Operating a Vehicle under the Influence (OVI) against Yurich, which would have required actual lab numbers to allow for a computation of his alleged impairment.
Prosecutors lumbered along without the scientific evidence, instead trying to convince the judge that Yurich was impaired by calling friends to the witness stand who had been drinking with him in the hours leading up to the crash. However, no one, including the investigating police officers, testified that at any time he appeared drunk. Defense attorney Lynn Maro pushed the point further: Yurich testified that he had had a few drinks along with four or five hot dogs, but did not feel impaired; his wife testified that when he arrived home after the crash, she did not notice any signs of alcohol impairment.
Yurich, who served in Iraq, claimed PTSD from the war led him to believe the crash was an “explosion” near the boat, and that he raced home out of fear his boat might sink. He claimed he didn’t even register that it might have been a crash.
Later that night, he later told law enforcement he thought he hit a “rock,” an officer testified.
Yurich said he was moving at about 25 miles an hour on the lake that night. The speed limit posted on the lake is 10 miles an hour. Witnesses on the shore said Yurich’s boat was moving quickly across the lake, then they heard a “crash,” and then yelling out on the water before Yurich’s boat sped off.
Prosecutors established through both expert and eyewitnesses that the lights on the fishing boat shared by Lindamood and Cuppett were working the night of the crash. Defense experts said that main light, which is supposed to be visible for two miles, may have confused Yurich, because it appeared to look like a camping light similar to those presumably present on the shoreline that night. However, the boat shared by Lindamood and Cuppett also had green and red starboard-side and port-side lights which were also operating when the crash happened.
Aaron Keller is an attorney and live streaming trial host for the LawNewz Network.
[Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to provide further details on the charges of which Dr. Yurich was convicted and to further explain the blood alcohol test results.]