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Thursday, September 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Crime/Public Safety

In second day of testimony, Dennis Magner says he has no memory of crash that killed three on Lake Coeur d’Alene

UPDATED: Wed., Aug. 1, 2018, 9:37 p.m.

Dennis Magner testifies in his own trial, seen here on July 31, 2018. Magner faces involuntary manslaughter charges stemming from a boat crash on Lake Coeur d’Alene in 2016. (KHQ)
Dennis Magner testifies in his own trial, seen here on July 31, 2018. Magner faces involuntary manslaughter charges stemming from a boat crash on Lake Coeur d’Alene in 2016. (KHQ)

During his second day of testimony, former Spokane advertising executive Dennis Magner told jurors he had no recollection of crashing his boat into another vessel on Lake Coeur d’Alene two years ago, and that the resulting memory issues led him to perpetuate inaccurate statements made about the crash by his passengers.

Magner, who is facing involuntary manslaughter charges, was driving his Mastercraft boat with four passengers on July 30, 2016, when he crashed into a Formula vessel that had its navigation lights turned off.

The three occupants of the Formula, Justin Luhr, 34, Justin Honken, 21, and Caitlyn Breeze, 21, suffered fatal and incapacitating injuries, were thrown into the water and drowned. Two passengers in Magner’s boat also fell into the water and Magner sustained a head injury.

During earlier testimony Tuesday, Magner – who has been arrested for driving under the influence twice in the past four years, the second 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.

Sweat has a criminal history, including burglary and theft charges – records Judge Cynthia Meyer allowed to be admitted in court. The Coeur d’Alene Press reported on July 14 that she declined to allow Magner’s history of DUIs to be admitted, however, saying they could be prejudicial.

Records show that in 2014, Magner was arrested for a DUI and his charges were amended to reckless driving. In December 2016, five months after the crash, he was arrested for a DUI again, spent 135 days in jail and paid $4,400 in court fines and fees, according to court records.

Magner said Wednesday that his last memory before the crash was driving the boat and pointing out the lights on his property to Sweat.

He said after that, he only remembers brief flashes of light and people yelling or crying. The only clear, specific visual image he said he could remember from the scene was seeing his boat floating in the water and looking back at it.

During cross examination, Kootenai County Prosecuting Attorney Barry McHugh asked Magner why in interviews the next day, he told deputies that Sweat had been the driver.

Magner said he was still trying to piece together what had happened during the crash the next day and had heard from others that Sweat had been driving. He said he was confused and unsure, and believed the other passengers’ accounts were plausible.

Magner said he doesn’t remember the police or medical personnel who responded to the crash and said he did not remember his trip to and from the hospital.

McHugh asked him how, if he was having memory and traumatic brain injury issues, he was able to text Sweat his address. Magner said he has no memory of sending the text and said a family member may have sent it on his behalf.

Elizabeth Ziegler, a forensic neuropsychologist, testified Tuesday that Magner may have suffered a brain injury, which could have led to memory loss in the immediate aftermath of the crash.

McHugh pointed out that the other symptoms, such as loss of consciousness, were only observed by the passengers of Magner’s boat. He asked if Magner may have feigned amnesia.

Ziegler said in her review of testimony and records, she did not see evidence that Magner had faked symptoms.

In a voicemail, McHugh estimated that arguments would stretch into Thursday, but could not predict when the jury may begin deliberating.

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