Brandon Verfaillie, the 32-year-old man from Chesterfield Township charged with several felonies for driving his boat while under the influence of alcohol and causing a fatal crash, has pled guilty to the charges.
Verfaillie appeared in court on Monday where he pled guilty to three felony charges, namely two counts of operating a vessel while intoxicated causing death, and one count of operating a vessel while intoxicated causing serious injury.
Under Michigan law, operating a vessel while intoxicated causing death is a felony punishable by up to 15 years, while operating a vessel while intoxicated causing serious injury, also a felony, is punishable by 5 years.
The tragedy that led to these charges happened on August 4th in a channel of the St. Clair River, just off Harsens Island in Lake St. Clair. Verfaillie, who was significantly intoxicated at the time, was driving a 25-foot Baja powerboat. He hit the wake of another passing boat, which caused him to lose control. The Baja became airborne, and then crashed into a nearby cabin cruiser.
Two people were killed in the accident – 52-year-old Robert Koontz, also of Chesterfield Township, and 68-year-old Nancy Axford of Winnipeg, Manitoba. In addition to the two deaths, three other people were injured in the crash, one of whom was Robert Koontz’s wife, 62-year-old Marlene Koontz.
Blood tests conducted by the Michigan State Police showed that Verfaillie’s blood alcohol content at the time of the crash was 0.105. State law puts the limit for boat drivers at 0.1., which is slightly higher than the legal limit for drivers on the road.
In addition to the criminal charges he is facing, Verfaillie is also looking at two civil suits as a result of the fatal OWI boat crash, one of which was filed on behalf of Marlene Koontz and her husband Robert’s estate. The other was brought by the estate of Nancy Axford.
Verfaillie is scheduled for sentencing on January 20th at 1:30 pm in the St. Clair County Circuit Court, before Judge Michael West.