HANCOCK COUNTY, Miss. (WLOX) - A man accused of driving a boat while intoxicated, causing a deadly crash that took the life of a Hancock County teen, has been found guilty in her death.
Eugene Butler Jr., 47, was found guilty Friday of culpable negligence in the death of 19-year-old Vanessa Mauffray.
In June 2016, Mauffray and her boyfriend, Ryan Necaise, were in a skiff setting crab traps on Bayou Caddy. Butler, who was driving a 20-foot fishing boat, crashed into the couple’s skiff. Officials said Mauffray died hours later as a result of traumatic injuries sustained during that crash.
During the trial, Necaise recalled seeing Butler’s boat come around the bend on the wrong side of the bayou. He told the jury he tried to move his boat closer to the bank to get away, but Butler’s boat stayed on the wrong side.
As the boat got closer, Necaise saw that Butler wasn’t at the wheel of his boat and was looking behind him toward the back of the boat. By the time Butler finally turned around, there was nothing anyone could do.
Necaise described the moment of impact, saying Butler’s boat went over the top of his, fatally injuring Mauffray and sinking their boat.
"Further investigation by DMR officers revealed that Butler’s boat was having engine problems and could not shift from forward to neutral without someone manually going back to the engine. In addition, after obtaining a search warrant, it was discovered that Butler’s blood still had THC, the active ingredient of marijuana in his system over three hours after the collision,” said Chief ADA Crosby Parker, who tried the case with Chris Daniel.
Sgt Patrick Carron, an accident reconstructionist with DMR, testified regarding the dimensions of the Bayou and the location of the collision on the victim’s side of the bayou, explaining to the jury how Butler had more than 600-feet of straightaway to see the victim’s boat and make corrections.
Butler took the witness stand during the trial and said he only turned backward for a moment, and when he turned back around the boat was in front of him. He said he tried to correct but that Necaise also tried to turn and they both turned into each other.
That point was disputed by Necaise. And during cross examination, Butler admitted that he was having engine problems and never once slowed as he was going around the bends in the bayou. Butler also changed his description of the location in the bayou where the collision occurred from where he initially told investigators back in 2016.
After hearing evidence for four days, a jury determined that Butler was negligently operating the boat that crashed into Mauffray, causing her death.
Butler was initially charged with boating under the influence when the incident occurred and was indicted for manslaughter in her death in 2017.
Butler is set to be sentenced on Oct. 15, 2019. Since he has two prior felony convictions, Butler faces up to 20 years in prison.