In a hushed voice, Kevin Lake apologized in court Wednesday to the girlfriend and family of Ben Miller, the friend he was convicted of killing in a boat crash.
"He was ... I don't even know how to express it -- like the younger brother I never had," said Lake, 24, of Norwalk. "I can't express enough how sorry I am about everything."
The apology was given in open court moments after Lake pleaded no contest to vehicular homicide and was formally found guilty.
The charge stemmed from Lake's participation in the negligent operation of his boat when it collided with a powerboat belonging to auto dealer Phil Steinle Jr. The June 15 collision killed Ben.
When Lake finished, Ben's father, Steve Miller, told Lake he did not buy the alleged sincerity of his regret. He accused Lake of trying to manipulate public opinion of his son to paint him as prone to rash decisions.
"Your actions were premeditated. You tried to make Ben look like a reckless individual, and I will never forgive you for what happened," Steve Miller said.
Steve Miller's sharp words prompted a skirmish between the two families in court.
In an e-mail sent Friday, Ben's mother, Deb Miller, said she wished it hadn't come to this, but her family has known since the day of the crash Lake's story had inconsistencies.
She said her family have bitten their tongues, hoping Lake's conscience would lead him to tell the truth about what happened that night.
But Deb Miller said Lake's concocted apology on Wednesday pushed her family over the edge.
"Kevin's only aim Wednesday was to guilt us into feeling sorry for him so he might get a lesser sentence," Deb Miller said.
Lake faces up to six months in jail. He will be sentenced in early July.
Deb Miller said Lake requested a chance to talk with her family before his court appearance. Suspecting Lake would not change his story, Ben's family wanted no part of it.
"We instantly, knowing Kevin as we do, felt this was a last-minute ploy to pull sympathy from us so we would ask the judge to go easy on his sentence. I told (the prosecutor) ... that I would be willing to talk to Kevin if he was ready to tell us the truth (that) he had piloted the boat that night, and had blamed Ben out of concern for his own well-being," Deb Miller said.
But Lake apologized anyway. Ben's family attributed Steve Miller's outburst to Lake's decision.
Lake's attorney, Troy Wisehart, said it's sad the Millers cannot find it in their hearts to forgive Lake. He said there was no cold calculation on his client's part --adding that Lake expressed his genuine remorse over the tragedy that devastated his life.
"He wanted to do what he did -- he wanted to talk to them and say how bad he felt about the situation and how torn up he is about it," Wisehart said. "He's absolutely 100 percent sincere."
Miller's family is upset Lake hasn't decisively said he was driving the boat. Just minutes after the crash, Lake claimed Ben was behind the wheel.
But an Ohio Division of Watercraft investigation concluded Lake was the pilot.
Investigators based this off the injuries to the boaters, the accident reconstruction, witness statements and other evidence.