Danish man given two-year prison sentence for fatal jetski accident

Copenhagen City Court has sentenced a 25-year-old man to two years in prison for negligent manslaughter after a jetski he was piloting crashed into a rented boat in Copenhagen harbour, killing two American students.

Danish man given two-year prison sentence for fatal jetski accident
Tributes are placed at the waterside at Islands Brygge, Copenhagen after the accident in May 2017. File photo: Anthon Unger/Polfoto/Ritzau.

Senior prosecutor Elisabeth Boserup had asked for a four-year sentence after the man was convicted, but half of that amount was given.

The 25-year-old has chosen to accept the sentence, but the prosecution authority may still decide to appeal for a harsher punishment.

“We would be happy if it is over now. He is unhappy, and has been from day one. He is still receiving psychological help,” defence lawyer Jane Ranum said after the court gave its verdict on Thursday afternoon.

While the driver of the jetski involved in the collision received a custodial sentence, seven of his friends will pay fines of up to 11,700 kroner (1,570 euros).

They were accused of endangering life by sailing recklessly in the harbour at the time of the accident, and could have faced months-long prison sentences, according to the prosecutor.

But the court found them to have been proven only of breaching maritime safety laws, not the more serious charge of endangering life, resulting in their relatively mild sentences.

The accident occurred on May 6th last year, when the 25-year-old, who works in construction, crashed into the boat, which contained seven international students, all of whom were United States nationals.

Leah Bell, 18, from Louisiana and 21-year-old Linsey Malia of Massachusetts lost their lives in the accident.

During proceedings, the court was shown video footage of a group of jetskis travelling towards the central part of the harbour at high speeds.

Witnesses also told how several of the vehicles carried out dangerous manoeuvres, including sailing directly towards a speedboat before turning away at the last moment, spraying people on the speedboat with water.

“Everytime, we thought, ‘Shit, this is going to go wrong’,” one of the witnesses said in court.

“It was part of the reason we called [police, ed.]. We were saying it was only a matter of time before something bad happened,” the witness added.

An accident involving the jetskis was not prevented. In attempting to make a U-turn, the 25-year-old lost control of his jetski, and hit at high speed the boat containing the seven American passengers, the court heard.

“I saw blood. I just saw that one of the girls was shouting and screaming,” the man said during his court testimony.

Following the collision, he and the seven other jetski riders sailed to nearby Brøndby Harbour, where they were detained by police.

The 25-year-old immediately confessed to having piloted the jetski involved in the fatal collision.

He also admitted to travelling too fast on the machine, but denied reaching speeds of up to 50-60 kilometres per hour, as other witnesses have previously described.

“I will take my punishment for what I’ve done,” the 25-year-old said in court.

It became clear during court proceedings that the man is affected by his guilt over the tragedy. He cried during questioning and a psychologist said he is at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder.

The families of the two young women who lost their lives chose not to participate in mediation with the man, defence lawyer Ranum said.

Jeff Bell, father of Leah Bell, told Danish broadcaster DR on Thursday afternoon that the length of the sentence would not change things for him or his wife.

“Whether it is ten years in prison or no punishment at all makes no difference. We no longer have our daughter,” Bell said according to DR.

Leah Bell’s parents did not travel to Denmark for the sentencing.

“We did not actually know he would be given his sentence today… We have not been given much information about the court case. We have some friends in Copenhagen who have followed the case a little, and have given us information now and then,” Jeff Bell said to DR.

“Our lives were changed on May 6, and we have tried to move on and process it since then, and we are going to carry on doing that,” Bell said.

READ ALSO: Man admits manslaughter charge in trial over Danish jetski tragedy