Manslaughter trial begins for man accused of boating while drinking before 2008 Lake Tarpon crash

LARGO — It was supposed to be a fun day of boating and tubing with friends on Lake Tarpon, but it "ended with chaos and tragedy" for 21-year-old Patricia Blankenship, a prosecutor said in court Tuesday.

On the opening day of the trial of Jeremy Rettman, Assistant State Attorney Doneene Dresback said Rettman was drunk when he was supposed to be responsible for the boat Blankenship was riding in that day.

Rettman is charged with boating under the influence-manslaughter. On April 5, 2008, authorities say, he headed out on the lake in a 16-foot Hydrosport with his daughter, who was 10 years old at the time, and his friend, Justin Shields.

The three spent the morning and early afternoon tubing and cruising around the lake. Sometime around 3 or 4 p.m., the boat stopped to pick up Blankenship, who was Shields' fiancee.

The four headed back to the dock at Anderson Park, on the west side of the lake, around 6:30 p.m.

Prosecutors said Rettman had given his daughter the wheel to steer, while he kept his hand on the throttle.

Suddenly, Blankenship shouted "Boat!" The Hydrosport went over a 21-foot vessel at anchor, throwing the three adults into the water. Rettman's daughter, Amanda, was able to stay onboard as she gripped the steering wheel.

Blankenship's arm and chest were mauled by the propeller. Her mother said at the time that it chopped into her daughter's arm, cut two arteries, and gashed the left side of her body, breaking all her ribs on that side.

Blankenship was taken by helicopter to Tampa General Hospital where she underwent two major surgeries and lost a large amount of blood. She died 10 days later.

Blood drawn from Rettman after the crash found alcohol levels of 0.193 and 0.195, more than twice the level at which the state presumes impairment. Rettman also had enough marijuana in his system for the medical examiner to consider him under the influence.

Rettman had a history of arrests for driving-related offenses such as DUI, driving with a suspended or revoked license, and reckless driving.

Blankenship graduated from Pasco's Mitchell High School in 2004. She was a star pitcher at the school all four years, winning Sunshine Athletic Conference honors, her mother said in 2008.

Blankenship and her fiance, Shields, were roommates with Rettman, Shields said Tuesday.

Shields said in court Tuesday that Rettman's daughter was steering the boat and that Rettman was directing her, as Shields sat in the front of the boat, when the accident happened.

Rettman's daughter, who is now 12, testified that both her father and Shields were next to her when the accident happened. She said she initially told police her father was piloting the boat because she "didn't want to get in trouble."

Manslaughter trial begins for man accused of boating while drinking before 2008 Lake Tarpon crash 02/09/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 9, 2010 7:56pm]

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