The boater who fatally rammed into another vessel in San Francisco Bay off Brisbane in August 2011 began trial yesterday on charges of vehicular manslaughter.
Prosecutors contend Philip Larson was not under the influence of any drugs or alcohol but instead operating his boat “Next Chapter” negligently when it crashed into the vessel carrying a 30-year-old man fishing with his father. The smaller boat capsized, trapping and drowning Minh Truong underneath. Although Larson claimed never to have seen the 19-foot long 1972 Sabercraft boat carrying Truong and his father, the Coast Guard felt he had plenty of time to do so but had failed to yield to the smaller ship as was his duty because his 41-foot long motor boat was larger.
Prosecutors charged Larson, 77, with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter and misdemeanor reckless operation of a water vessel. He has pleaded not guilty and Tuesday began jury trial.
The Aug. 3, 2011 incident happened at Sierra Point off the Brisbane marina at 12:10 p.m. when Larson’s cabin cruiser hit the San Francisco fishermen’s anchored boat in a T-bone collision and flipped it, trapping Truong in the water. Afterward, Larson reportedly told authorities that he felt “a bump” and then saw the overturned Sabercraft boat. Larson also reportedly said he saw Truong’s father, Kiet, holding to the overturned boat’s hull and yelling for help.
Six years previous to the fatal crash, Larson allegedly crashed a boat into the Hunters Point Pier, according to a wrongful death lawsuits filed against him and his Next Chapter corporation by Kiet Truong and the mother of Minh Truong’s two young children.
The consolidated suit describes the August 2011 crash as violent and sudden despite calm waters and good visibility. The suit also claims Larson should have been on even higher alert that day because of his earlier alleged violations of the same boating rules that led to his colliding the boat About Time into the pier on June 29, 2005, injuring passengers aboard. After Truong’s boat overturned, the civil suit claims, Larson and other passengers of the Next Chapter did not make an effort to help or call for assistance but instead “merely looked on.”
The criminal case actually came before a jury briefly in January but a mistrial was declared three days in testimony after a juror fluent in Cantonese told the court a witness interpreter was not accurately translating.
The case is unique for the District Attorney’s Office.
“I don’t know of another vehicular manslaughter case involving a boat, at least not in my history,” said District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.
Larson remains free from custody on his own recognizance.