Appeals Court Backs Negligent Homicide Conviction in 1999 Lake Michigan Boating Accident

October 5, 2004

Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager announced that the court of appeals recently affirmed a negligent homicide conviction stemming from the 1999 collision of two boats on Lake Michigan.

“The Court’s ruling holds the person at fault accountable for his actions in this tragic case,” Lautenschlager said.

A Manitowoc County jury found Lawrence Hoffman, 51, the manager of an excavating company in Illinois, guilty in the death of Mark Rickert. Hoffman had reportedly set his 37-foot boat on autopilot, cruising at 20 knots, when it crashed into the rear of a 19-foot fishing boat trolling on the lake on June 25, 1999.

Rickert was on the fishing boat with three other men, who survived the collision.

According to the court of appeals, jurors had sufficient evidence to find that Hoffman was still “operating” the boat when it was on autopilot, and that Hoffman did not maintain a proper lookout or adequately monitor the boat’s controls.

The court concluded that even if another man was at the boat’s helm when the collision occurred, as Hoffman argued, “credible evidence demonstrates that Hoffman never turned over control of the boat” to that other man.

Hoffman, who currently resides in Hawthorne Woods, Ill., faced a maximum prison term of five years on the sole count of negligent homicide by operation of a vehicle.

On June 6, 2003, he was sentenced to nine months in jail.

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