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Butte Co. District Attorney: Victim’s father asks that son’s killer be given probation

In 2018, State Park Rangers were called to the Lake Oroville scene where officials say they learned 31-year-old Brandon Smith was intoxicated.

Posted: Jun 4, 2020 6:53 PM
Updated: Jun 4, 2020 7:38 PM

BUTTE COUNTY, Calif. - The father of a man who was killed in a Lake Oroville boat crash in 2018 asked that the man who pleaded guilty to charges of vehicular manslaughter, be given probation, according to Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey.

On May 13, 2018, 31-year-old Brandon Smith was driving a speed boat with five people on board when he crashed into the shoreline, ejecting 27-year-old Walter Gerken out of the boat, killing him, according to officials.

A 19-year-old woman was also thrown out of the boat and she sustained major injuries to her leg.

RELATED: Chico man pleads guilty, 2018 Lake Oroville boating crash

State Park Rangers were called to the Lake Oroville scene where officials say they learned Smith was intoxicated and was driving too close to the shoreline without an adequate lookout positioned on the boat.

In January of 2020, District Attorney Ramsey said Smith pleaded guilty to charges of vehicular manslaughter in the operation of a vessel while intoxicated and operation of a vessel while under the influence causing great bodily injury.

Two years after the crash, Ramsey says Gerken's father addressed the court at the sentencing hearing on June 4, asking leniency to be exercised in the sentencing.

RELATED: Memorial Service for Man who Died in Boat Crash at Lake Oroville

"While I still grieve deeply for my son’s loss and regret terribly that the accident happened I hold no grudge for Mr. Smith," said Gerken. "My son could as easily have been the responsible party.”

Judge Michael Deems sentenced Smith to 120 days in jail, but suspended that time, pending the success of Smith completing three years of felony probation, during which he is prohibited from the use of alcohol, must take substance abuse treatment classes and attend a 12-step program.

Ramsey says at the hearing, Smith was told that a failure to follow those rules and successfully complete his probation time would subject him to a potential prison sentence of over six years.

The other passengers on the boat sustained minor injuries.

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