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Saw Rope on River Too Late, O'Neal Tells Judge

December 18, 1986|Associated Press

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Griffin O'Neal testified Wednesday, the final day of his manslaughter trial, that he did not see the tow rope that killed Gian-Carlo Coppola last Memorial Day until their boat was about 10 feet away from it.

"At that point, I see a rope rise into view," said O'Neal, son of actor Ryan O'Neal. "At that point, I screamed what I could, I did what I could."

Circuit Judge Martin Wolff said he would try to have his verdict ready today.

O'Neal, 22, is charged with misdemeanor boat manslaughter and four counts of reckless and negligent operation of a boat in connection with Coppola's death May 26 on the South River near Annapolis. The manslaughter charge carries a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and five years in jail.

Coppola, who was the son of movie director Francis Ford Coppola, was killed as the boat struck a tow rope between two larger boats. His skull was crushed when the rope threw him backward onto the metal deck of the small, rented boat.

O'Neal admitted that he lied when he at first denied that he had been operating the boat. He said he did not know why he did not immediately take the responsibility.

"I felt fear, shock. I felt then that he wasn't going to live, and saw I had killed my friend," he said.

"I felt guilt. I would rather have traded places," O'Neal said.

He testified that he had had three beers and one drink of tequila on the day of the accident.

Earlier Wednesday, O'Neal's lawyers introduced evidence to counter prosecution claims that O'Neal was going 35 to 40 m.p.h. when the boat hit the tow rope.

Laurie Cassidy, whose husband owns the marina where O'Neal rented the boat, said the 14-foot runabout's top speed is 25 m.p.h.

Speed is one factor that could be considered by Wolff, who heard the case without a jury. Another factor could be whether O'Neal saw the tow line before cutting between the two boats.

Ryan O'Neal attended the trial Wednesday, took notes on a yellow pad and occasionally leaned over to touch his son's arm or whisper to him.

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