Jury selection is to begin Monday in the involuntary-manslaughter case against a Pleasant Valley man charged in a double-fatal boat crash in LeClaire.
The crash occurred Aug. 16, 2020, when a boat owned by James Thiel Sr. and/or his company, Thiel Truck Center, collided with a boat operated by Craig Verbeke, of Moline. Verbeke and his fiancee, Anita Pinc, died as a result of injuries they sustained in the crash just off the LeClaire riverfront.
The couple’s dog also perished.
Verbeke was operating a 19-foot vessel and a minor was behind the wheel of Thiel’s 35-foot boat, according to reports by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, or DNR. The minor is not being identified by name.
Some eyewitnesses said Thiel’s boat appeared to be racing with a third boat, coming downstream at a high rate of speed. Reports by the DNR estimate the speed of Thiel’s boat just prior to or at the time of the crash at 60 mph.
Verbeke’s boat was traveling at “cruising speed,” according to the DNR.
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The Thiel boat had a maximum capacity of 12 passengers, but 13 were onboard that day, including nine children. Two of the children were 6 years old.
A final pre-trial hearing on Friday settled an issue between the two parties. Mike Walton, county attorney, had asked that the jury be allowed to be escorted by a bailiff to an out-of-town storage facility to see the boats and the damage they sustained.
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Leon Spies, Thiel’s attorney objected, saying the condition of Verbeke’s boat “has been significantly altered” since the crash. Viewing the boats could be “misleading” to the jury, the defense argued.
The defense then asked the judge to instead permit the jury to be escorted to the Mississippi River levee to view the area of the crash and the location of witnesses who will testify in the trial.
The judge approved both jury-view requests, saying they likely can be transported to the levee in LeClaire and the boat storage facility in McCausland on the same day.
The state did not object to the defense’s request for the levee visit.
“In fact, I think it’s a good idea,” Walton said.
A collection of civil lawsuits have resulted from the case. In one such filing, a passenger on Thiel’s boat claimed Thiel was intoxicated and failed to supply sufficient supervision to the juvenile who was operating the boat.
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Thiel refused a breathalyzer test, according to DNR records. At Friday’s hearing, Spies said his client did so on the advice of counsel.
Verbeke’s blood-alcohol content was .102, which is above the legal limit of .08 for operating a motor vehicle.
Thiel faces two felony and two misdemeanor charges of involuntary manslaughter, along with a charge of reckless use of a watercraft. He has entered pleas of not guilty on all charges.
The trial is expected to last about a week and a half.