Boat captain found guilty in deadly crash

| 03/08/2022 | 38 Comments
Cayman News Service
Boat damaged in fatal crash in August 2019

(CNS): Sean Michael McDonald (39) has been found guilty of two counts of manslaughter and one of endangering life in connection with a deadly night-time boat crash in the North Sound near the Harbour House channel three years ago. Manuel “Manny” Brown (49), a former police officer from George Town, and his business partner, John Turner (70), a UK national living in Cayman, who were aboard the Godfrey Hurricane, were both killed in the collision. Shamilla Wright, who was also aboard that boat, suffered life-changing injuries.

Justice Cheryll Richards found that McDonald, who was at the helm of the Pepper Jelly on 11 August 2019 with passengers, who all survived the crash largely unscathed, was responsible for the fatal collision. She said he was driving too fast, not keeping a proper lookout and did not take the necessary evasive action.

Following a judge-alone trial that she presided over in March of this year, Justice Richards delivered her verdict Tuesday and outlined why she had found that McDonald was “rash and negligent” in his operation of the boat to such an extent that he was criminally responsible and guilty of manslaughter and endangering life.

Though his passport has been seized, McDonald, a long-term permanent resident, was allowed to continue on bail until his sentencing, which is not expected to take place until November due to a number of court-requested reports and the availability of attorneys.

Reading out part of a judgment, which she said was more than 100 pages, the judge explained how she was sure McDonald was responsible for the collision. He had denied the charges but did not take the stand during the trial. However, his interview with police shortly after the crash was submitted in evidence and an expert witness gave evidence on his behalf to refute a report on the details and reconstruction of the collision made by the crown’s technical expert.

But the judge said she found the prosecution’s expert, US marine accident investigator Patrick Michael Neal, to be the more reliable witness because James Crawford, McDonald’s expert, had not had the opportunity to make as thorough and timely examination of the wreckage of both boats as Neal. She also said that Crawford was less objective in his findings.

Neal had found that the Pepper Jelly struck the front of the smaller boat, mounted it and hit the helm, effectively rolling over the Godfrey Hurricane before capsising. After being hit, the Godfrey Hurricane had moved through the water and smashed into a seawall. The technical evidence also revealed that the Pepper Jelly was at full throttle when the crash happened, while the smaller boat’s throttle was positioned at one-third to a half.

Crawford had suggested that because there was no speed limit in the area where the crash happened, the issue of speed was down to the judgement of the captain.

In his statement to the police, McDonald had claimed he was doing no more than 20 to 25 miles per hour at the time, but the GPS recorded that the boat had accelerated to as fast as 50mph just before the crash. McDonald had also admitted that driving his boat over 40mph “starts to get scary”, demonstrating that he was well aware that such speed would present a danger to other users, a point noted by Justice Richards in her ruling.

McDonald had also said that he had seen no lights of any vessel nearby as he neared the Harbour House Marina channel and that he did not see the Godfrey Hurricane until just before the crash, when it was just five feet away from his boat.

The question of whether or not the Godfrey Hurricane was properly lit formed a major part of McDonald’s defence. CCTV from Harbour House Marina had caught the crash on video, and although it was not possible to see the collision clearly, it showed a bright light on the Godfrey Hurricane. McDonald had argued that it was not necessarily visible to those aboard the Pepper Jelly.

But Justice Richards said that if McDonald had kept a “proper lookout”, as he had claimed to the police, he would have seen the Godfrey Hurricane approaching “to his port side well before the collision, even if the lights of the Hurricane were positioned in such a way as to be difficult to see”.

She said that the “speed at which he was travelling would have, on his own account, made it difficult to see above the bow of the boat at night”, as she noted the key issues that led to her guilty verdict.

This was compounded by McDonald’s decision not to give evidence during the trial. “I am sure the true reason for him not giving evidence is he did not have an answer that he thought would stand up to questioning,” Justice Richards said.

McDonald, the owner of the charter company that owned the boat, was an experienced captain and knew the North Sound very well. The judge said that, given his knowledge and experience, approaching the channel at such an unsafe speed in the prevailing circumstances at night without a proper lookout was in breach of his duty of care to other users in the water to a criminal extent.

“I find that his conduct of navigating that vessel fell far below the standards to be expected of a person in his position, with his experience and responsibilities,” Justice Richards said. “In operating the vessel at the speed at which he did, he did so in a manner which could only be described as rash or negligent, such as to endanger human life.”


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Category: Courts, Crime

Comments (38)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Sean McDonald is a complete POS.

    He didn’t turn himself in until the next day.

    He is a known powdered substance and alcohol abuser and was on both substances when the crash happened.

    He killed 2 people and ruined the life of a third.

    I sincerely hope Sean McDonald receives the maximum possible sentence and rots in Northward

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  2. George Ebanks. says:

    I am planning to stand for election in the next cycle. Cayman needs a commsense voice that is independent.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Good for you. Lets keep the campaigning of the comments. Which should be focused on the article/issues at hand.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Oh George, George, you have tried this several times before and always failed, because everyone thought you were a joke candidate. The fact that you’re posting here makes me believe nothing has changed. What on earth makes you think it has?

      Please don’t be so silly.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    Ill start by saying, I don’t like this guy. However, this will likely be appealed and overturned for numerous reasons.
    1. Whether he was high or drunk played no part in the conviction/sentencing as he didn’t hand himself in until the next day.
    2. Marine accident reconstructions are not reliable for the simple reason of there being no evidence marking on the water. They can only conclude how the boats collided, not why.
    3. There is no speed limit where the accident happened so the case of recklessness is subjective. Marine vessels, including government boats operate at speed at night.
    4. On the water, the larger vessel always has right of way.
    5. If rumor is to be believed, the smaller boat had no Nav lights which is against the law and dangerous. A spot light is not sufficient as this gives anybody around them a bearing on which way the boat is facing.

    I am absolutely not defending what happened as him being under the influence was very likely true and he deserves the sentence. I am arguing the fact that the judges case is weak and can likely be overturned.

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    • Anonymous says:

      There is video. It’s rather straightforward.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Are you sure the larger vessel has the right of way on the water? I can’t remember hearing about that in my captains course.

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      • Anonymous says:

        You are correct. Bigger only counts if the bigger boat is impeded by its draft or limited in ability to maneuver. .No tankers or bulk carriers were involved here.

    • Anonymous says:

      This is all true. Also during the investigation of this case the Police misappropriated “(‘lost’) evidence, in such a way that it would show no wrongdoing on the victim. The victim was also intoxicated, which was not mentioned… The police collected certain evidence but the lied and said they did not have it. This whole process has made for an unfair trial from the beginning. I think this guy Sean has been set up in part to take the complete fall just because one of the victims was an ex-police officer. And yes, the is no ‘speed limit’ in the North Sound and there is no official management of the North Sound or any legislation for it or paths for vessel travel other than the channels by shoreline and 5mph in Environmental Zones and 200yrd swimming areas. The Cayman Islands law should be on trail for this as well.

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    • Anonymous says:

      As for your point 3, isn’t that exactly the point? The captain has to use his judgment as to what is safe. Driving at that speed a) in a channel b) when its dark and c) by his own admission he cannot see above the bow at that speed.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    Sean may you rot in a prison for many many years!

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  5. Anonymous says:

    Guy has been here since he was a kid and only has PR?

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  6. Anonymous says:

    His grandfather is Caymanian…..he arrived from Canada when i was 10 and had more rights than me who was born here…

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    • Anonymous says:

      He was here since 2 years old. His parents had him in Canada and the brought him back to Cayman. His father and Grandfather have Caymanian status. He was just born outside of Cayman in Canada, so he is a naturalized Caymanian.

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  7. George Ebanks. says:

    I don’t think the verdict is quite fair. There was ample evidence of negligence on the part of the Godfrey captain who wasn’t operating a properly illuminated vessel.

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    • A bit concerned says:

      What? Lighting means nothing if a boat is going 50mph in that zone and the captain didn’t look around and can’t even see past his own boat at that speed (so couldn’t see a light). Two people died and one was injured and him and his drunk and drugged up friends swam away. Verdict sounds fair to me.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Exactly. And the boat Sean was operating is designed to go faster than he was traveling. Who the hell is the judge to know anything about what a safe speed is? She’s not qualified to know anything about this. He should 100% appeal this judgment.

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    • Anonymous says:

      George Ebanks is an idiot!And now everyone knows by reading your comment.
      While Mr McDonald was cruising with a buzz he killed people, took their lives and destroyed another. Just like every Caymanian, you George forgive way to easily, hence the criminal culture that has been created amongst young Caymanians. If it was you son, brother or father would you say the same?

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    • Anonymous says:

      George Ebanks, please don’t ever run for public office! You’re a few sandwiches short of a picnic!

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  8. Wait and see says:

    He will not be here in November. He will leave like a thief in the night on a boat or a plane like all the other expats who get convicted of serious crimes and refuse to face their consequences. No justice. Wait and see.

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  9. Anonymous says:

    I would submit that Cayman’s taxi and omnibus drivers shouldn’t remain licensed and entrusted to convey passengers if they are unwilling to drive with their headlights on after sundown like any and all other vehicles required to do so.

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  10. Anonymous says:

    Sean is an alcoholic and a drug addict. He’s still in the bar right now proclaiming his innocence with a drink in his hand and a straw up his nose.

    He is still doing boat charters while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. This is a disgrace to the victims he killed.

    He killed two innocent people.

    Let justice be served for once.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Whether any of that is true or not, how is a non Caymanian the owner of a water sports company? Is that not itself an offense? WTF is going on around here?

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  11. Anonymous says:

    This was a truly horrendous incident that ruined so many life’s. Good to see some justice finally done. When there is mention of drinking whilst captaining a boat don’t forget the consumption of other illicit powder commodities (which are currently rife on island) which combined with alcohol can be a deadly combination for both the user and innocent parties.

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  12. Anonymous says:

    They still drinking and driving boats out rum point in weekends..police taking blind eye…sad!

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    • Anonymous says:

      The coast guard enforce laws on our waters why is the police always blamed…Smh

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      • Anonymous says:

        Because this incident happened prior to the coastguard becoming operational. This clown was partying at Kaibo with a crowd of guys and girls who were all very drunk and almost certainly high on cocaine a short while before the crash.
        He killed two very good men and seriously injured a lovely woman, all whom I had the pleasure and honour of knowing. I hope this moron rots in jail, he is a menace and a danger anywhere near the water.

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  13. Anonymous says:

    A Permanent Resident? Then that right should be immediately taken away and he should be removed from the island to serve his sentence in a jail in his home country. Why should we pay for his incarceration when our residents have already paid for his negligence with their lives.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Sean is more Caymanian than these journey come lately that don’t pay for their residency. I imagine the only reason why he still, has PR is that he simply did not apply for this status. Him and his sibling were here from children. He went through schooling here graduating from Triple C. His mother, God bless her soul, worked a civil servant for many years in HSA. His grandparents are the original owners of MacDonald’s Restaurant (their name sake) that the Hew’s bought and currently own. Did he make a tragic judgment call? Yes! And he shall have to keep that with him all his life. I personally know it has been very difficult for him, mentally. However, that is no reason to deport Sean from the only home he knows. That is cruel and wrong. I can think of many more who got PR and status that should be deported. Their crimes are deliberate and impacts Caymanian lives on a far greater scale.

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      • Anonymous says:

        “Difficult for him mentally”. Right. Poor lamb.

        What I think you mean is he’s worried. And so he should be. He killed two people and maimed another, failed to hand himself in until he was clean, and since then has wriggled to get off the hook.

        Nobody is denying the speed his boat was going at, and in the dark that’s downright dangerous regardless of whether or not there’s a speed limit. And it’s telling that while he’s happy to prop the bars up and tell anyone who can be bothered to listen that he’s blameless, he wasn’t prepared to do the same in court for fear of cross examination.

        He didn’t mean to kill anyone, but kill them he did. And he did so through negligence, quite probably exacerbated by drink and drugs. It’s hard to think of a clearer case of manslaughter.

        And wasn’t there something about a subsequent attempt to tamper with the vessel’s electronics to erase evidence?

        I agree that he shouldn’t be kicked off the island. He should serve a nice long time right here in Northward. It would be cruel to cause this killer to feel homesick for the land of his birth.

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  14. Anonymous says:

    Throw the book at him in November!

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    • Anonymous says:

      give him the max, 30 years in jail. 2 people gone forever throuhh his stupidness and carelessness and drunkness

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