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Speed boater charged with manslaughter in death of jetskier

Caitlin McDonald, of Rockville Centre, was riding on

Caitlin McDonald, of Rockville Centre, was riding on a jet ski that was hit by a 35-foot Fountain motor boat in Middle Bay, southeast of Parsonage Cove. Credit: JoAnna McDonald

A speed boater has been charged for the death of a Rockville Centre teen last year as she rode a jet ski with her dad near Baldwin Harbor, according to the Nassau District Attorney’s Office.

The boater, Christopher Palma, 45, of Oceanside, was indicted in March, before the coronavirus emergency, and arraigned Thursday in the July 14, 2019, death of the teen, 18-year-old Caitlin McDonald, according to the office’s news release.

Charges include manslaughter, assault, criminally negligent homicide, all felonies; and a misdemeanor, reckless operation of a vessel.

Palma isn’t accused of intending to kill McDonald. But, the prosecution alleges, she died as a result of his operating the boat recklessly, or at least with gross carelessness, by speeding and failing to yield when he should have.

Unlike murder, there is no intent requirement for manslaughter — if recklessness can be proved — or criminally negligent homicide — in which only gross carelessness need be proved.

Palma’s attorney, Stephen LaMagna of Garden City, said he considered it “grossly inappropriate to criminalize an accident.”

“It was the jet skier that chose to cross the designated channel where my client was operating his vessel, and it was the jet skier who slammed into the side of my client’s boat,” LaMagna said. “So how this case rises to the level of criminal liability is beyond me.”

Bail was set at  $20,000 cash or bond or $10,000 partially secured bond, the release said, and posted, LaMagna said.

McDonald had been on a jet ski tour in Middle Bay Channel near Baldwin Harbor and Parsonage Cove and traveling in single file, perpendicular to the path of Palma’s Fountain Lightning vessel: He was operating the vessel “at a high rate of speed … despite the presence of boating traffic and multiple jet ski tour customers," the release says. 

“Several of the jet skis crossed in front of his path and, under navigation rules, Palma was required to reduce speed and yield the right of way to the victim, who was approaching from the starboard side of his vessel,” the release says. “The defendant, however, maintained course, did not stop, and his vessel collided with” her jet ski, casting her into the water with “grave” injuries.

On Thursday, her mom, JoAnna McDonald, shared her daughter’s obituary: graduate of South Side High School, rising sophomore at Loyola University in Maryland, “talented trumpet player,” Gold Award recipient from the Girl Scouts.   “Caitlin accomplished so much in her too short life.”

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