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Former Spokane advertising executive Dennis Magner acquitted in boating deaths

UPDATED: Fri., Aug. 3, 2018, 10:04 p.m.

Dennis Magner (KHQ)
Dennis Magner (KHQ)

A jury has acquitted former Spokane advertising executive Dennis Magner of killing three people in a Lake Coeur d’Alene boat crash two years ago.

The jury deliberated for several hours on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning before finding Magner not guilty of three counts of involuntary manslaughter.

Before delivering the jury’s verdict, the judge asked onlookers, including both the victims’ and Magner’s families, to keep their reactions subdued. After delivering the “not guilty” verdict, the court asked Magner, his defense team and his family to leave the courtroom first and allowed the rest to leave a few minutes later.

The trial lasted two weeks, during which Magner testified in his own defense, telling jurors that he could not remember crashing his MasterCraft boat into a Formula vessel that did not have its navigation lights turned on. The crash killed Justin Luhr, 34, Justin Honkin, 21, and Caitlin Breeze, 21, all of whom were on the Formula boat.

Magner sustained a head injury in the crash and his passengers were injured, but none died.

“It’s a bittersweet moment. There’s no winners in this,” said Magner’s attorney, Carl Oreskovich. “There’s not a time Mr. Magner did not feel the suffering of the families who lost children and loved ones in this accident.”

Kootenai County Prosecuting Attorney Barry McHugh declined to comment on the verdict.

During testimony on Tuesday, Magner – who has been arrested for driving under the influence twice in the past four years, the second time five months after the crash – admitted he had been drinking in the six to eight hours leading up to the crash and said he had met the passengers of his boat only a few days before.

One of the passengers, Jonathan Sweat, initially told deputies that he was the one driving the MasterCraft. During his testimony Tuesday, Sweat said he decided to come forward after he learned that people had been killed on the other vessel. Magner, who also told detectives that Sweat was driving, said because of his memory issues he believed what he said was true.

The crash occurred at Threemile Point around 9:15 p.m. on July 30, 2016. The following February, the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office recommended a range of criminal charges against Magner, having ascertained that he and his passengers had initially lied about who was piloting the boat. On Sept. 1, 2017, Magner appeared in court and pleaded not guilty to three counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of criminal conspiracy.

The criminal conspiracy charge was dropped before his trial began.


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