YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – A Poland doctor charged after a deadly boating crash two years ago took to the witness stand in his own defense.
It’s the first time Dr. Joseph Yurich has testified, saying the sound and impact of the boat crash took him back to his time serving as an Army surgeon in Iraq.
“Things tend to go slow. You don’t hear anything, you don’t know what’s going on, you just react,” Yurich said.
He is accused of crashing into a bass-fishing boat, killing Brian Cuppett, of Akron, who was inside. The crash also badly injured Bruce Lindamood, who owned the fishing boat.
Fighting back tears at times, Yurich spent nearly two hours Tuesday recounting what happened before and after the crash.
“When I heard that explosion, it triggered some memories for me. I don’t remember anything else from the accident.”
He said he remembers very little about the crash on the Berlin Reservoir in May of 2015. Yurich said it took about an hour for him and his wife to piece together what happened and call authorities.
Yurich said the crash made him recall a rocket attack from years earlier.
“The explosion reminded me of the indirect fire,” he said. “It brought memories and it felt like, in the moment, I relived that experience.”
Prosecutors claim Yurich was driving too fast at the time and stopped only long enough to curse at the victims before speeding away from the scene.
In court Tuesday, Yurich testified that he didn’t realize what he’d done until he was near his lakeside home in Deerfield.
“I had felt that I had hit something but I did not know what it was,” Yurich said.
Prosecutors attacked his story, arguing the real reason he couldn’t remember was that he was drunk. When questioned by Attorney Dawn Cantalamessa about whether he had been drinking the night of the crash, Yurich said that he had, admitting he went to a bar near the reservoir earlier that evening.
“You had two beers and two shots at the bar and then you started another beer at the campground,” Cantalamessa said.
Monday, the defense presented its case, including testimony from a boating accident reconstruction expert. He told the court that the fishing boat should have moved out of Yurich’s path and that the victims’ use of a camping lantern may have actually contributed to the crash.
When both sides made their closing arguments Tuesday, the defense claimed prosecutors failed to prove Yurich was intoxicated. They also said it was too difficult to see the fishing boat in the darkness.
However, prosecutors insisted Yurich was both under the influence and reckless.
Judge Jack Durkin is expected to issue a verdict Wednesday. If Yurich is convicted, he could face mandatory prison time.