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Crash survivor's story conflicts with defense

James N. LeCher recalls little about the boat collision that injured him and killed four of his friends May 27. What he does remember, however, contradicts key points in the emerging defense strategy of the St. Petersburg chiropractor charged in the deaths.

Prosecutors accuse Dr. William A. LaTorre of recklessly speeding through a congested minimum wake zone of the Intracoastal Waterway when his Cigarette boat plowed over a smaller speedboat.

LeCher, 18, of Clearwater, was the only one of the five teen-agers in the smaller craft to survive. Killed were Richard Weeks, Todd Kuhn, Jan Christman and Geoffrey Nash, the driver of the boat.

LeCher has declined to speak to reporters about the accident. But his account of the crash is contained in a deposition filed in court this week.

In the deposition, LeCher told attorneys the accident occurred within the minimum wake zone, just north of Indian Rocks Beach Bridge.

"I just remember looking up and seeing the hull of the (LaTorre) boat just hit us," said LeCher, who was a passenger sitting at the stern of the 17-foot boat.

"Judging from where I saw the hull of the boat, and with the bridge in the background, uh, I would say we were inside the no-wake zone."

LaTorre's attorneys, however, have said that in fact the accident occurred at least 75 feet outside the minimum wake zone. They also maintain their client did not speed in the minimum wake zone.

LaTorre, 50, facing four counts of manslaughter and a barrage of civil suits - including one filed by LeCher - blames the accident on the smaller boat.

His attorneys say the smaller boat improperly cut across the waterway and into the path of LaTorre's northbound boat as it accelerated out of the minimumwake zone.

Here too, LeCher tells a different story. The smaller boat was heading south and did not cut across the channel before the accident, he told attorneys.

In an interview Wednesday, Cohen called LeCher's sworn deposition "completely unreliable and untrustworthy." He also accused LeCher of attempting to "stick it" to LaTorre to strengthen his civil suit.

Cohen said he will seek to cast doubt on LaCher's testimony at LaTorre's Sept. 4 trial by bringing up LeCher's alcohol and possible marijuana consumption during a gathering at Nash's house the night before the accident.

LeCher admitted in the deposition to drinking "a couple" of beers and taking a puff from a pipe, although he said the pipe may have contained only some tobacco or cloves.

LeCher spent the night at Nash's house. Late the next morning, the teen-agers went out in Nash's boat. "They said something about a barbecue or some party or something," he recalled.

LeCher said he did not see anyone on the boat drinking alcohol.

Nash's blood, however, tested positive for the presence of alcohol and marijuana.

LeCher said he was "looking at the scenery" when he heard the roar of LaTorre's engines a fraction of a second before impact.

"It happened so fast," he said.

LeCher said he was thrown into the water by the crash, which ruptured his spleen. He managed to scramble back into his friend's shattered boat.

"I was freaked out," he said. "I didn't know what was going on.

I don't know. I don't know what happened after that."