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Clayton man pleads guilty to drunken boating in 2011 accident that injured six

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WATERTOWN — A Clayton man faces five years’ probation after pleading guilty Thursday in Jefferson County Court to charges that he caused serious injuries to three people while operating a boat while intoxicated.

Peter R. LaGrow, 66, of 419 James St., pleaded guilty to second-degree vehicular assault and operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol. He entered his pleas using an Alford plea, meaning he did not admit to the underlying facts in the case, but was pleading guilty to avoid the possibility of a harsher sentence if convicted of the crimes at trial. A trial in the matter had been scheduled to begin May 12.

Mr. LaGrow was operating a 23-foot boat on the St. Lawrence River off Clayton about 12:45 a.m. on Aug. 21, 2011, when the boat struck a shoal near the Eagle Wing group of shoals and small islands. According to an indictment handed up in October, Mr. LaGrow was operating the boat with a blood alcohol content of 0.11 percent, above the state’s minimum legal level of 0.08 percent considered proof of intoxication.

In all, five passengers, as well as Mr. LaGrow, were injured in the collision, including three passengers who were seriously injured. According to the indictment, Mr. LaGrow’s daughter, Wendy Kolceski, Syracuse, and Victoria Falcone, Fayetteville, suffered broken necks. Ms. Kolceski also suffered multiple fractures in her face, lost teeth and had cuts to her mouth and lip, while Ms. Falcone additionally suffered a cut to her kidney and other injuries. A third passenger, Amy E. Donnelly, Syracuse, suffered a cut to her liver, as well as bruises on her head and body. Mr. LaGrow reportedly suffered neck and internal injuries, while two other passengers suffered minor injuries.

It was alleged that Mr. LaGrow caused the accident by operating the boat while intoxicated and by operating the vessel at night without supplemental navigational aids or artificial lights. Assistant District Attorney Walter M. Jeram Jr. told Judge Kim H. Martusewicz that, had the matter proceeded to trial, prosecutors would have elicited testimony from Ms. Donnelly and Ms. Falcone as to the extent of their injuries and that Mr. LaGrow was operating the boat at the time of the accident.

Mr. Jeram said he also would have produced testimony from Stewart Wilson, a state park police officer, who was prepared to say that he encountered Mr. LaGrow on his boat a short time after the accident and detected an odor of alcohol emanating from him. The officer also would have testified that blood taken from Mr. LaGrow at Samaritan Medical Center showed he had a BAC in excess of 0.08 percent.

In addition to being sentenced June 27 to probation supervision, Mr. LaGrow is expected to be fined $500 on the boating under the influence charge. He also will be ordered to pay any restitution for his victims’ medical bills that are not covered by insurance.

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