OGDEN Utah (ABC 4 News) - It took a jury less than two hours to convict a man accused of causing the death of a University of Utah scientist.
Skyler Shepherd was found guilty of reckless endangerment, obstruction of justice and failure to render aid. Shepherd faces up to two and a half years in jail when he is sentenced in January.
The people have spoken, guilty, guilty, guilty," says Bryan Fujimoto whose sister was killed by the boat belonging to Shepherd.
Shepherd was in the boat when a friend hit Ester Fujimoto who was swimming in Pineview Resevoir in August 2011. The boat’s propeller cut up her legs, one was nearly severed. The medical examiner testified during the trial that Fujimoto died a painful death and she bled to death.
Shepherd’s guilty verdict means he faces jail not prison time. And he could spend anywhere from six months to two and a half years. His charges were all misdemeanors.
And when the Fujimoto’s first learned of that last year, they were shocked.
“If it were a car under similar circumstances … a car would be a felony and a boat is a misdemeanor, .I couldn't believe it,” recalls Fujimoto following Friday’s verdict.
That’s because Utah’s boating laws in 2011 treated Ester Fujimoto’s death like that of a traffic violation or a shoplifting charge. A hit and run on the waterways was only a Class B misdemeanor.
But months after Fujimoto died, Utah’s boating laws were changed by the legislature. Lawmakers made a death caused by a hit and run as a third degree felony.
“This gives more teeth to the law that if someone leaves or serious injury prosecutors have more to work with,” says Dave Harris who oversees the state parks in the Department of Natural Resources.
But it took the death of Ester Fujimoto to expose the loophole in Utah’s boating laws.
Her family has no anger towards the system but is satisfied with a guilty verdict and that Ester helped changed a weakness in the law.
“It's so unfortunate our sister died in the way she did but no other family will have to deal with that if this very situation came up,” says Ester’s brother.