Trial begins for Linda O'Leary, charged in 2019 boat crash that killed two people

A trial has begun for Linda O'Leary — the wife of celebrity businessman Kevin O'Leary — who is charged in a boat crash that killed two people.

O'Leary faces charge of careless operation of a vessel under the Canada Shipping Act

A view from the Hamer Bay Marine looking out into Hamer Bay, which connects to Lake Joseph, where a fatal crash occurred on Aug. 24, 2019. Linda O'Leary pleaded not guilty Monday morning to one charge of careless operation of a vessel under the Canada Shipping Act. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains graphic details.

A man whose boat was struck by a vessel operated by Linda O'Leary nearly two years ago says he heard an engine revving in the moments before the collision that killed two people.

Irv Edwards is testifying on the first day of trial for O'Leary, who is the wife of celebrity businessman Kevin O'Leary.

Linda O'Leary pleaded not guilty Monday morning to one charge of careless operation of a vessel under the Canada Shipping Act.

An agreed statement of facts read in court says she was at the helm when the boats collided on Lake Joseph, north of Toronto, the night of Aug. 24, 2019.

Gary Poltash, 64, from Florida, died at the scene, while Suzana Brito, 48, from Uxbridge, Ont., died in hospital a few days later. Three people were also injured.

Edwards, a California-based physician whose cottage is on a bay connected to the lake, says he and a group of friends and acquaintances were out on his boat that evening to look at the stars following a dinner party.

O'Leary and her husband, Kevin O'Leary arrive at the American Music Awards at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles several years ago. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/The Canadian Press)

Owner heard boat engine revving

He testified that he heard a boat engine revving "at high speed" about 20 seconds before his boat was struck at around 11:30 p.m.

"It did not register with me as being alarming because I assumed that the boat coming would pass on one side or the other … so I kept staring at the stars until this horrific collision occurred," he told a Parry Sound, Ont., court on Monday.

"It was a huge impact that pushed the boat backwards, I felt, substantially. It was not, by any means, a small tap."

Immediately after the collision, Edwards said he and others on the boat turned on their cellphone flashlights for additional light.

Poltash's neck was "distorted and cocked to the right side," Edwards said, and he had a big gash above his ear, from which blood and grey matter could be seen. 

Brito's neck was not as distorted and a little blood could be seen coming out of her nose of mouth, he said. Both had been sitting at the front of the boat and were unresponsive, as was Edwards's cousin, who he said had been propelled face down onto the boat's floor.

The agreed statement of facts said Poltash and Brito died as a result of blunt force trauma from being struck by a boat.

The operator of Edwards's boat, Richard Ruh, of Orchard Park, N.Y., was also charged in the incident. He faced one count of failing to exhibit a navigation light while underway.

Witness Irv Edwards, left, is questioned by Crown attorney Samir Adam at the trial of Linda O'Leary Monday. Her lawyer, Brian Greenspan, sits in the foreground. (Pam Davies/CBC)

Owner testifies lights were on when he captained

Edwards testified on Monday that he had handed over the operation of his boat to Ruh earlier because he wanted to be able to enjoy the stars.

He told the court the boat's lights — a strip of LED lights on both sides of the bow and a dome light at the top of the tower — were on when he was captaining, and that he did not see any change after switching places with Ruh.

"It was dark at night and they needed to be on," he said.

Court is expected to see security video from both the Edwards and the O'Leary cottages during the trial, as well as photos taken by police after the crash and other evidence. The trial is taking place in person and broadcast by video conference.

Kevin O'Leary, the former star of the popular CBC show "Dragons' Den," also stars on the ABC show "Shark Tank." He ran for the leadership of the federal Conservatives in 2017, but eventually dropped out of the race.