Trial in Fatal Boat Crash Begins

Concord — March 9, 2010 — When Erica Blizzard crashed into Diamond Island on Lake Winnipesaukee in the early morning hours of June 15, 2008, killing her close friend, she was legally drunk and traveling at an “unreasonable speed,” prosecutors said yesterday.

Belknap County Attorney James Carroll said yesterday that toxicology results show Blizzard’s blood-alcohol level was 1.5 times the legal limit when she ran her 37-foot powerboat into the island, killing 34-year-old Stephanie Beaudoin of Meredith and seriously injuring herself and another friend, Nicole Shinopulos of Burlington, Mass.

Blizzard, 36, of Laconia, has been charged with two counts of negligent homicide; one of driving while intoxicated when she hit the island about 2:20 a.m., and the other of failing to keep a proper lookout. The former charge carries a sentence of 7½ to 15 years, and the latter carries 3½ to seven years.

Blizzard also faces an aggravated driving while intoxicated charge for the injuries suffered by Shinopulos. It carries a sentence of 3½ to seven years.

Before opening statements yesterday, the jurors climbed into a yellow school bus and were driven to a state Marine Patrol storage building six miles away. The judge, news media, prosecution and Blizzard’s attorney joined them, while Blizzard opted not to attend.

There, jurors inspected the damage to the 17,000-pound boat, with a chunk of the front hull broken off and the underbelly a mess of shredded fiberglass. Carroll jumped into the engine bay to show jurors where the mounts for the twin 425-horsepower engines had snapped from the impact.

Back at the courthouse, James Moir, Blizzard’s defense attorney, opened by describing for jurors the scene at Lakes Region General Hospital after the crash. Blizzard’s face had been crushed in the wreck and was “floating, basically detached from her skull” as doctors hovered around her while she fought for her life, Moir said.

“They’re saying: ‘Erica, stay with us, stay with us,’ ” Moir said.

Meanwhile, Shinopulos, who suffered a broken jaw but was “clearly going to live,” was approached by a Marine Patrol investigator and asked what had happened, Moir said.

Shinopulos described the course of the evening and admitted to drinking in a Wolfeboro restaurant, but she told the officer “in no uncertain terms, that Erica was not impaired in the least,” he said.

“In order to find Erica guilty, you’re going to have to find that Nicole lied to the investigators,” Moir said.

Moir said he anticipates that Blizzard will testify in her own defense.

“There isn’t a crime here,” he said. “This was an accident.”

Later in the afternoon, the prosecution called its first four witnesses – Carroll has listed 30 – to flesh out the events before the crash. First on the stand was Jennifer Ivester, a waitress of 13 years at the Wolfetrap Grill and Rawbar in Wolfeboro who served the window table occupied by Blizzard, Beaudoin and Shinopulos the night of Saturday, June 14, 2008.

Ivester, whose memory was jogged by a statement authorities had asked her to prepare the day after the accident, said the three women sat down about 8:30 p.m. and ordered a round of mixed drinks: a vodka-cranberry drink for Blizzard and Beaudoin and a rum and Coke for Shinopulos. The women then began to flip through photos of a trip they had taken that winter.

About a half hour later, Blizzard and Shinopulos repeated their orders, Ivester said. At 9:45 p.m., Ivester asked the women, now the last table in the restaurant, if they wanted dinner before the kitchen closed. An appetizer of steamers was followed by lobster salads for Blizzard and Beaudoin and a lobster roll for Shinopulos.

About 10:30 p.m., Blizzard ordered another round, but Shinopulos abstained, Ivester said. Blizzard asked Ivester to “make them light,” a request Ivester relayed to the bar.

Blizzard paid the tab on the drinks about 11 p.m., and none of the women seemed impaired, Ivester said. They left their table by 11:45, with Blizzard having consumed three pint-sized drinks made with Grey Goose vodka over the course of three hours, Ivester said. Ivester said she saw the women leave the establishment about 12:15 a.m.

The women then went to Blizzard’s father’s house, according to previous statements. It was a family tradition to prank her father, Lakeport Landing Marina owner Paul Blizzard, on Fathers Day, which was that Sunday. In previous years they had littered the yard with flamingos and balloons; in 2008, it was “Blizzard for Sheriff” campaign signs, Moir said.

Loud explosion
The prank completed, the women were returning from the house in Blizzard’s Formula powerboat when it rammed into the shoreline of 37-acre Diamond Island near the summer home of Tom Rock, a 27-year orthopedic surgeon at Lakes Region General Hospital.

On the stand yesterday, Rock remembered being jolted awake from a sound sleep by a loud explosion.

“I sat up and said ‘What the blank was that?’ ” Rock said.

He went outside, followed by his wife, Nancy, and ran the length of the coastline in an “extremely dark night” and a spitting rain, thinking the sound came from the mainland about a mile away.

“I couldn’t see anything,” he said, including the contrast between land and water. He finally spotted the boat, which had bounced back from the impact about 15 to 20 feet into the water, and took a dinghy out to reach it, climbing onboard.

The tilted boat had filled with water up to his knees, Rock said, and he could see gasoline and shards of windshield glass. Blizzard, bleeding profusely from massive facial injuries, was lying across the dashboard but had a pulse. Shinopulos was hysterical Rock said, and he had to repeatedly ask her to sit down. And Beaudoin, with no vital signs and a “floppy” neck as he tried to revive her, appeared to be dead, he said.

Afterward, while standing with the police, Rock said an officer pointed to several beer cans bobbing near the boat. Rock said, however, that debris often washed up along his shoreline.

As Rock gave his testimony, Blizzard lifted her glasses and dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief. Much of the rest of the time, she could be seen taking notes as the witnesses spoke.

The last witness of the day was Brian Blanchette, a Gilford emergency medical technician who responded after receiving a call at 2:27 a.m. With “no moon, no real stars,” Blanchette said he could not see the island as his rescue boat approached.

“I know where we’re going, but I can’t see a thing,” he recalled being told by his partner, who was driving.

Blanchette said as he tried to put an air tube into Blizzard’s mouth while on the boat, he “smelled what appeared to be alcohol.” However, Blanchette said while being questioned by Moir that the odor of alcohol only indicates someone has been drinking, not how much they have consumed.

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