Mr. Lakefront News - The latest news about Maine lakes and ponds.

Long Lake Boater Settles Lawsuits in Fatal Accident

June 10, 2009 - PORTLAND A Massachusetts man, convicted of drunken boating last year in a crash that killed two people on Long Lake in Harrison, has settled the wrongful death lawsuits brought against him by the families of the victims.

Robert LaPointe, 40, and his father, George LaPointe, reached an agreement late Monday afternoon with the families of Terry Raye Trott and Suzanne Groetzinger, lawyers said. The parties agreed to keep the amount of the settlement confidential.

Ben Gideon, the attorney for the Groetzinger family, said the parties spent most of Monday in private mediation led by Justice Carl Bradford at Cumberland County Superior Court.

Robert LaPointe, who has served about eight months of his three-year prison sentence, was taken to Portland from the Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren so he could attend the mediation with his father and his lawyer.

Members of the Trott and Groetzinger families also attended.

"I was optimistic that it was possible, but not necessarily expecting it," Gideon said of the settlement.

"There are some administrative things that need to be done. Beyond that, the case is over."

Blaine Groetzinger, who has handled his mother's estate after her death, declined to comment. Lawyers for the Trott family could not be reached late Monday.

Gideon said the Groetzinger family is "pleased to have closure of this terrible and tragic chapter of their lives. They felt that settling the case made the best of a bad situation," he said.

The case had been scheduled to go to a civil trial in October.

At the time of the crash, Maine law allowed plaintiffs in wrongful death lawsuits to recover up to $400,000. That was the amount each family had been seeking from LaPointe and his father.

George LaPointe was named in the lawsuits because Robert LaPointe conveyed a 100-acre parcel in Bridgton to him shortly after he was criminally charged. Lawyers for the victims' families claimed that the land deal was fraudulent and meant to conceal assets.

On the night of Aug. 11, 2007, LaPointe was operating his 32-foot Sunsation Dominator, named No Patience, on Long Lake. The Medway, Mass., resident and his wife owned a home in Bridgton and spent a good part of their summers at the lake with their two children.

Around 9 p.m., about an hour after sunset, LaPointe's boat ran up and over the back of Trott's 14-foot motorboat.

The smaller boat was destroyed.

Trott, 55, of Harrison and Groetzinger, 44, of Berwick were killed. They had been a couple for a few months and had gone out on the lake to watch a meteor shower.

A blood test showed that LaPointe's blood alcohol content was 0.11 percent three hours after the crash.

Maine's legal limit to operate a boat or a motor vehicle is 0.08 percent.

During an eight-day trial last September at Cumberland County Superior Court, prosecutors said that LaPointe had consumed beer throughout the day of the crash, and that his speed allegedly at least 45 mph had been reckless for night boating.

Defense lawyers described the crash as a tragic accident.

They said that LaPointe had not been intoxicated and that Trott's boat had not had any lights showing.

Witnesses at the trial gave conflicting statements about the lights.

On Sept. 24, a jury convicted LaPointe on two counts of aggravated operating under the influence. The jury deadlocked on charges of manslaughter and reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon. Justice Robert Crowley sentenced LaPointe to more than three years in prison, to be followed by two years of probation.

The criminal conviction solidified LaPointe's liability in the wrongful death lawsuits, Gideon said. The only legal questions to be resolved at that point were how much money the families were entitled to, and how much the LaPointes still had for assets.

In court documents, Robert LaPointe's wife, Heather, said the family went deep into debt to pay for his bail and for his criminal defense team.

Heather LaPointe said the family took out a $100,000 home equity loan, borrowed $100,000 in cash from a friend and sold 100 acres in Bridgton to George LaPointe for $125,000.

They used most of the money on a $275,000 retainer fee for lead defense lawyer J. Albert Johnson, Heather LaPointe said in the court papers.

Johnson, of Boston, has represented high-profile clients such as Patricia Hearst and Pamela Smart.

LaPointe's lawyer in the wrongful death action, Seth Holbrook of Boston, could not be reached for comment Monday. In an interview last November, he said LaPointe and his family hoped to avoid a civil trial.

"This is a somewhat complex matter," Holbrook said at the time. "We're looking to settle amicably."

By TREVOR MAXWELL, Staff Writer, Portland Pres Herald, June 9, 2009

Lakes: Long Lake
Regions: Sebago