PORTLAND – Robert LaPointe pleaded not guilty Tuesday to seven criminal charges, including two counts of manslaughter, in connection with the deaths of two boaters on Long Lake in Harrison last August.

Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson told a judge Tuesday that when the 38-year-old Massachusetts man was taken to a local hospital to have his blood drawn to test for alcohol intoxication about two and a half hours after the crash, as required by law, he asked a nurse in the emergency room to substitute her own blood as the blood sample for the intoxication test.

The nurse drew LaPointe’s blood.

His blood-alcohol content was found to be .11 percent at that time. Maine’s legal limit for operating a boat or other motor vehicle is .08 percent.

In addition to the manslaughter charges, LaPointe, of Bridgton and Medway, Mass., was indicted by a Cumberland County grand jury last month on four counts of aggravated operating under the influence and one count of reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon.

His bail had been set at $100,000 cash, but at his court appearance Tuesday, Cumberland County Superior Court Justice Robert E. Crowley reduced bail to $50,000 cash over Anderson’s protest.

LaPointe’s local attorney, Neale Duffett, argued that bail ought to be reduced because LaPointe had turned himself in, had no prior criminal convictions in Maine and has family connections here. His mother-in-law lives in Maine.

Duffett said his client was “very tightly strapped financially,” having depleted his own assets and raised money from friends and family for bail.

Anderson countered that Duffett was able to post bail within two business days and has virtually no personal ties to Maine. He was operating a $150,000 boat, she noted.

Justice Crowley concluded that LaPointe’s clean record likely meant he would not violate the law while the charges against him are pending and cut the amount of bail in half.

Terms of LaPointe’s bail include no alcohol or illegal drugs and being subject to random searches by police.

LaPointe was at the wheel of his 34-foot dual engine speedboat, a Sunsation Dominator, when it struck a boat carrying Terry Raye Trott, 55, of Naples and Suzanne Groetzinger, 44, of Berwick, killing both, investigators said.

No one from either family spoke publicly Tuesday.

Members of LaPointe’s family and his friends attended the court appearance. Later, outside the courthouse, they described LaPointe as a victim of circumstance.

LaPointe’s sister, who didn’t give her name, called the incident a “tragic accident.” She added: “Robbie happened to be the one that survived.”

“It’s a terrible tragedy. It was an accident,” said Arthur Schwartz, LaPointe’s friend and boss from Ashland, Mass.

Both boats were moving through the water on a dark night. The collision happened in a second, he said.

“Half a second on each side; they would have missed each other. And I wouldn’t be sitting here,” he said.

“How do you handle something like that?” Schwartz said. “Two people are dead.”

Schwartz said he’s known LaPointe for more than a dozen years. LaPointe is vice president of sales at Comptel Services Inc. in Holliston, Mass., which buys and sells used telecommunications equipment. Schwartz, who views himself as LaPointe’s mentor, owns the company.

Anderson said the state and the families of the two victims interpret differently the circumstances surrounding the crash.

“He was intoxicated. He was driving at a very high rate of speed. It was a very, very dark night. He was essentially driving blind. And we have information that he had seen this boat shortly before the crash,” Anderson told reporters outside the courthouse.

Maine Warden Service investigators determined that LaPointe’s boat was traveling about 45 mph in the dark on the night of the crash Aug. 11. The collision occurred near the middle of the 11-mile-long lake south of Bear Point on the east shore, not far from the Naples town line. It took Warden Service divers three days to recover Groetzinger’s and Trott’s bodies.

LaPointe’s boat ended up more than 130 feet into the woods on the east shore of the lake near the Naples town line. Both LaPointe and 19-year-old Nicole Randall of Bridgton, a family friend, were ejected from the boat in the collision and swam more than 1,000 feet to shore.

LaPointe faces four OUI charges – two from the state fish and game department and two from the state motor vehicle department – because laws allow it when a death occurs, Anderson said. The dangerous weapon charge is a result of LaPointe’s allegedly being intoxicated, operating at an excessive speed, failing to maintain adequate visibility and failing to yield to another watercraft as he piloted his boat with dual 435-horsepower engines down the lake.

The two counts of manslaughter are each punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The four counts of aggravated OUI each carry a maximum six-month jail term and a $2,100 fine.


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