General Crime

* William Russell Dawson a Petaluma man convicted of misdemeanor charges in the boating death of Mark Spier

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A Sonoma County judge today found a Petaluma man guilty of misdemeanor charges in connection with the death of an intoxicated man who jumped off his boat and became trapped under its propeller.William Russell Dawson, 28, was convicted by Judge Arthur Wick of vessel manslaughter while intoxicated, boating under the influence of alcohol and reckless boating after a court trial. Dawson faces up to a year in the county jail when he is sentenced April 30.Dawson was slowly backing up his Master Craft ski boat on Lake Sonoma on May 6, 2007, when Mark Spier, 51, of Orland, jumped from the back of the vessel. He bled to death when he became entangled in the propeller. Dawson had a blood-alcohol level of 0.14 percent and Spier’s level was 0.22 percent, according to the prosecution.The charges were initially filed as felonies but Judge Elliot Daum dismissed them, ruling Spier caused his own death. The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office appealed Daum’s ruling and the California Court of Appeals reinstated the felony charges. The appeals court ruled “the risk that Spier would end up in the water near a churning propeller was foreseeable” and that as captain, Dawson was responsible for those on board especially if they were intoxicated, Sonoma County District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua said.The case then went back to Daum who reduced the felony charges to misdemeanors.Wick ruled today “a careful driver of a boat would never let a drunk person don a ski vest, possess a ski and enter the water completely unobserved by the helmsman,” according to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office.Dawson’s attorney Jonathan Steele was unavailable for comment this afternoon. He previously characterized the case as a “horrible accident.”Dawson also was convicted in 2001 of DUI stemming from a December 2000 incident. He received three years probation.

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