Kevin Lake gets probation for boat death

SANDUSKY Describing it as "probably the most difficult case" he's dealt with as a judge, S
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010



Describing it as "probably the most difficult case" he's dealt with as a judge, Sandusky Municipal Court Judge Erich O'Brien opted not to send Kevin Lake to jail.

Lake, 24, Norwalk, pleaded no contest to negligent vehicular assault in April in connection with the June 15, 2008, boat crash that killed Ben Miller.

Lake faced six months in jail, but O'Brien opted to suspend the jail sentence for five years, provided Lake stays out of trouble. O'Brien also fined Lake $1,000 -- themaximum fine for a first-degree misdemeanor.

He suspended Lake's driver's license for two years andforbade Lake from ever owning oroperating a boat.

"Some things are just anaccident," O'Brien said Wednesday at the sentencing. "This is a legal crime, but it's still just an accident. My deepest condolences to both sides."

O'Brien said he spent weeks mulling the case over but ultimately realized no sentence could make up for the loss the Millers felt.

Miller's mother expressed anger at the sentence.

"We're not happy," said Deb Miller, who wore a picture of her son to Wednesday's sentencing. "We feel like there is a message sent here: Lie your way out. You can lie your way out and your sentence isn't going to be as severe. ...You don't have to be careful -- you just have to think of a story."

Troy Wisehart, Lake's attorney, said he felt the sentence was appropriate.

Lake, who wore a blue shirt, dark tie and dark slacks, did not speak during the sentencing or make comments afterward.

He apologized to Miller's family at the plea hearing in April. That apology provoked an outburst by Miller's father, Steve, who accused Lake of attempting to portray his son as reckless.

Wisehart said Lake wants to smooth things over with the Millers, but now is not the time.

"At the last hearing he became painfully aware they don't want to talk to him," Wisehart said. "He doesn't want to hurt them anymore. He'd like to reach out and talk. He'd like to make things right with them. But this is not the right time. There is still a lawsuit pending."

Miller's family is suing Lake and Phil Steinle Jr. in Erie County Common Pleas Court.

Lake, Miller and their girlfriends were riding in Lake's Sea Ray when they collided with a 41-foot formula driven by Steinle about 210 yards outside of Lyman Harbor. Miller, 21, was thrown from the boat and died from his injuries. His body was recovered a day later. An autopsy found Miller had broken ribs, lacerated lungs, a ruptured stomach and a torn spleen.

The crash occurred after Lake, Miller and their girlfriends attended a concert and drank together. They were heading home after stopping to eat at McDonald's.

Miller's girlfriend, Emily Jones, 28, was also thrown from the boat, but was pulled to safety. Lake's girlfriend, Ashley Franklin, 24, Huron, was also injured, as was Lake.

Lake told investigators Miller was piloting the boat at the time of the crash. In a 911 call, Lake is heard telling an operator that the driver of the boat had been thrown overboard.

But an investigation determined that the injuries Lake suffered in the crash -- bruising to his right side and a gash under his right eye -- were consistent with the injuries the driver of the boat would have suffered. Because the majority of Miller's injuries were to his left side, investigators concluded Miller could not have been piloting the boat when it crashed.

Lake has never acknowledged he was driving.