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Hancock County man sentenced to 12 years after deadly boating accident

Eugene Butler Jr., 47, was found guilty of negligence in the 2016 boating death of Vanessa...
Eugene Butler Jr., 47, was found guilty of negligence in the 2016 boating death of Vanessa Mauffray.(Harrison County Sheriff's Dept.)
Updated: Oct. 22, 2019 at 10:02 AM CDT
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HANCOCK COUNTY, Miss. (WLOX) - The man accused of driving a boat while intoxicated, causing a deadly crash that took the life of a Hancock County teen, was sentenced this week.

Eugene Butler Jr., 47, was found guilty earlier this month of culpable negligence in the death of 19-year-old Vanessa Mauffray. On Monday, a judge sentenced Butler to 12 years in prison with no chance for an early release.

Family of 19-year-old Vanessa Mauffray say they are relieved to know that the man responsible...
Family of 19-year-old Vanessa Mauffray say they are relieved to know that the man responsible for her death is going to prison.(WLOX)

Mauffray’s sister, Victoria McKinley spoke at the sentence hearing about her own loss.

“[A]ll of our life plans were ended in that one moment," said McKinley. "One moment created by someone’s bad decisions…bad decisions that would steal our happiness.”

She also shared a statement that her mother wrote.

"[D]ay after day, my worst fears are relived again and again. I was not able to protect my child, and now, I fear that it’ll happen again. I will always have that fear. Every time my phone rings, my heart stops because I’m waiting to hear something tragic has happened again. I relive the day Vanessa was taken every single day of my life. Her beautiful life that was just beginning. Nothing will ever be the same without Vanessa in it.”

Vanessa Mauffray, 19, died in a fatal boat crash in 2016.
Vanessa Mauffray, 19, died in a fatal boat crash in 2016.(WLOX)

The victim’s father Stacy Mauffray also addressed the court and Butler.

“[E]very day I wake up missing Vanessa and every night I go to bed missing Vanessa…she was taken away by a senseless and avoidable act.”

Before handing down the sentence, Judge Larry Bourgeois noted that two families had been destroyed on the bayou on the day of the fatal crash.

“There are no winners here," said Bourgeois. "On that bayou, two families were destroyed – there is no question. There is nothing I can do to bring her back. It was an accident brought on by culpable negligence - it was avoidable. It’s a somber day. Everyone involved has lost.

Addressing Butler directly, the judge called his actions reckless.

"After the injuries were inflicted, you did try to help this young girl by calling 911, taking her to the dock, and getting her aid. However, her life was cut short, and it is no one’s fault but yours. A bad thing happened because of your recklessness.This was a difficult case with horrendous consequences.

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.

Vanessa Mauffray, 19, was killed when a boat struck the boat that she was on in June of 2016.
Vanessa Mauffray, 19, was killed when a boat struck the boat that she was on in June of 2016.(Mauffray Family)

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.

Officials said Butler’s blood still had THC, the active ingredient of marijuana in his system, over three hours after the collision.

After hearing evidence for four days, a jury determined that Butler was negligently operating the boat that crashed into Mauffray, causing her death.

“This is an incredibly tragic and avoidable crime, and the consequences arising from the decisions that day have devastated many people and these Hancock County families," said District Attorney Joel Smith. “Although no sentence or punishment can bring Vanessa back, we are thankful that the Mauffray family received justice today.”

Butler was initially charged with boating under the influence when the incident occurred and was indicted for manslaughter in her death in 2017.

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