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Tuesday, October 22, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Crime/Public Safety

Former advertising executive pleads not guilty to causing fatal Lake Coeur d’Alene boat crash

UPDATED: Fri., Sept. 1, 2017, 8:35 p.m.

Dennis Magner and Jonathan Sweat of Spokane have pleaded not guilty in the deaths of three people killed in a Lake Coeur d’Alene boat crash July 30, 2016. (Courtesy KHQ)
Dennis Magner and Jonathan Sweat of Spokane have pleaded not guilty in the deaths of three people killed in a Lake Coeur d’Alene boat crash July 30, 2016. (Courtesy KHQ)

Former Spokane advertising executive Dennis Magner pleaded not guilty Friday after an Idaho grand jury filed charges against him for the deaths of three people killed in a boat crash last summer on Lake Coeur d’Alene.

Magner, 51, appeared in court Friday to face three counts of involuntary manslaughter and a count of criminal conspiracy for the crash that occurred the night of July 30, 2016, off Threemile Point. Killed were Justin Luhr, 34, and two 21-year-old passengers, Justin Honken and Caitlin Breeze.

The three victims were struck as they sat in Luhr’s anchored boat, and it took several days for divers to recover their bodies.

In addition to Magner, the grand jury charged Jonathan C. Sweat, 41, of Spokane, with criminal conspiracy based on false statements that he gave to investigators. Sweat was a passenger on Magner’s boat at the time of the crash.

The Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office recommended criminal charges against Magner last February, saying he and three of his passengers initially lied about who had been operating the boat. The passengers later recanted and Magner admitted to driving at the time of the crash.

The grand jury’s charge angered Sweat’s attorney, Chris Bugbee, who said it was his client who initially came forward to come clean about the crash after first providing a false story.

Bugbee said Sweat and others initially were told by investigators that they believed the boat they hit had no lights and possibly was adrift when Magner’s boat struck it in the dark.

“When he gave that original statement, (Sweat) had no idea that people were missing or hurt or even killed,” Bugbee said. Sweat “contacted me when he heard people were missing, saying he wanted to come forward. Once he realized this was not just a drifting boat and there were people possibly in the water, he wanted to do the right thing.”

Despite coming forward, Sweat now faces a felony offense. Bugbee said the initial trial was set for February by First District Judge Cynthia Meyer.

The crash occurred the night of July 30, when Magner’s Mastercraft struck and went airborne over the top of Luhr’s boat. The collision ripped off the top of the cabin and removed the dash and cockpit, according to court records.

Luhr, Honken and Breeze all suffered head wounds and went overboard, where they drowned. Luhr’s family filed a civil wrongful death suit against Magner earlier this year stemming from the deadly crash.

Magner appeared in court Friday with his attorney, Carl Oreskovich, who declined to comment about the changing stories or the criminal case in general.

“Obviously, my client can’t speak publicly,” he said. “But on his behalf, I would express his profound and sincere condolences to the families of those persons who died in the accident.”

As the court case proceeds, Magner has other challenges. Oreskovich said Magner has been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood and bones.

“He’s going to have some fairly significant treatment, but hopefully he will be OK,” he said.

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