Defendant testifies in trial for fatal boat crash on Lake Murray

COLUMBIA — Tracy Gordon took the stand to testify in his own defense four years after a fatal crash on Lake Murray in which he drove his 24-foot Baja speedboat into a pontoon boat that had three people on it.

Gordon, of Elgin, is charged with reckless homicide by operation of a boat and three counts of boating under the influence in connection with the crash, which resulted in the death of 68-year-old Stan Kiser on Sept. 21, 2019.

Gordon, a 57-year-old manager at a dog food manufacturing plant, testified on Sept. 18 that he’d had eight beers between the hours of 1 p.m. and 9 p.m., but he denied being intoxicated at the time of the crash.

“I’ve never been a big drinker,” Gordon said.

He said that he and his wife, Angie, who testified under subpoena from the prosecution during the trial that has now lasted a week, are not partiers and that they mostly keep to themselves during their weekly boat outings. Their routine consists mostly of working and exercising during the week, he said, but they typically bring beers with them onto the lake on Saturdays.

That particular Saturday started out normally, Tracy Gordon said. He’d packed 16 cans of Natural Light beer, eight bottles of water and two Gatorades, along with sandwiches and snacks, in their cooler. After having three beers from the cooler and three beers at Liberty Tap Room and Grill on Marina Road in Irmo, across about seven hours, the couple made a final stop at sister venues the Rusty Anchor and Catfish Johnny’s off Johnson Marina Road in Chapin. Gordon had his eighth beer of the day there, and minutes later, around 9 p.m., life changed for both his family and for the Kisers.

“It happened so fast,” Gordon said, adding that the night was particularly dark while he accelerated out of the no-wake zone near the lake restaurants. He went up to half throttle to get the boat “on plane,” or level with the water, as he drove up the right side of the channel.

“It was pitch black,” the defendant said, testifying that he did not see the pontoon boat until it was too late. By the time he noticed it, he was already running over it. He said he never saw the boat’s lights.

“I jerked the wheel,” Gordon testified. “That’s all I had time to do.”

Kiser was dead, having suffered some of the worst injuries the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy said she’d ever seen. His wife, Shawn Kiser, was injured so severely her leg had to be amputated. Their daughter, Morgan, suffered head injuries.

Prosecuting the case, Deputy Solicitor Daniel Goldberg and Assistant Solicitor Carter Potts asked Gordon why he did not go to the Kisers’ boat to help after the crash. He replied that he could not see the boat, only the lights of a different boat that at that point was already arriving to help.

In keeping with his wife’s earlier testimony, Gordon said he’d asked whether they needed someone to dial 911, and got a response out of the darkness that someone was already on the phone with authorities.

Other witnesses, including managers from the Rusty Anchor and Catfish Johnny’s restaurants and a former South Carolina Highway Patrol Officer who taught field sobriety examinations at the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy, testified that Gordon did not show signs of intoxication or impairment.

“I didn’t have any issues with my staff serving them that night,” said Catherine Reedy, one of the managers at Catfish Johnny’s.

Officers with the state Department of Natural Resources who responded to the crash said they felt there were enough clues to indicate that Gordon was intoxicated. But because DNR officers failed to sign the affidavit from the warrant for Gordon’s blood sample, Judge Heath Taylor ruled that Gordon’s blood alcohol content would not be admissible as evidence.

Defense attorneys Joe McCulloch and Jack Swerling also suggested that the chaos of the scene following the crash could have caused distractions and hindered Gordon’s ability to pass each stage of the sobriety field tests, body camera footage of which was shown in court.

Gordon’s testimony did deviate from his wife’s in one way: what each claimed to have heard after the crash.

Both testified that they heard screams coming from where the Kisers’ boat was. But while Angie said she remembered possibly having heard someone scream, “My dad’s dead,” her husband said he heard no words, only screams.

“I simply can’t believe how this happened,” Gordon said. “I was just in shock.”

The trial and testimony from other witnesses will continue on Sept. 19.

September 20, 2023  
Post and Courier, The (Charleston, SC)  
Charleston, South Carolina
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