Rescuer testifies of rowing out to dying Pineview swimmer
Courts • Would-be rescuer recounts final moments.
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Ogden • "Help me, help me."

They were the only words Esther Fujimoto said to Vaughn Anderson when he rowed out to her after she had been hit and fatally injured by a motorboat on Pineview Reservoir on Aug. 21 , 2011.

And they would be her last.

"She never did speak after that," Anderson said Tuesday of Fujimoto, who died soon after he reached her.

Anderson's testimony came on the second day of a jury trial in 2nd District Court for boat owner Skyler Shepherd, 22, who is charged with reckless endangerment and two other misdemeanors.

Also Tuesday, jurors got their first glimpse into Shepherd's side of the story, as prosecutors played a taped interview with Weber County Sheriff's detective Don Kelly.

In the video, Shepherd appears alongside his attorney, Glen Neeley, and he explains his version of events. He told the detective that he was on his boat with Colton Raines, 23, and Robert Cole Boyer, 30, when Raines said he wanted to take the boat out for one last run before sunset. When Raines was driving near the Spring Creek area, he saw a swimmer dressed in black, and swerved to miss her.

Shepherd said Raines stepped back from the driving wheel and put his hands up, indicating that he didn't want to drive any longer. So Shepherd said he took over, turned the boat around, and went to check on the swimmer.

He asked her twice if she was OK, he told the detective.

The swimmer responded with "Yeah," and a loud grunt, he said.

"[She was] just mad," Shepherd told the detective. "Just like pissed off. I thought to myself, well sh—, if someone came close to me, I'd be pissed too."

Shepherd said that he thought Fujimoto was alright, and that his friend managed to miss the swimmer. He told the detective that he was fearful to come forward because the accident was being played out in media reports as a hit and run.

"That's not what it was at all," he told the detective. "I stopped to see if this lady was OK, and she said she was."

But Chief Medical Examiner Todd Grey testified Monday that Fujimoto likely would have known she was injured. She suffered severe injuries to her lower abdomen and legs, her femoral artery was cut and she was bleeding to death, Grey testified.

During Anderson's testimony, jurors heard the emotional 911 call he made that day from his 12-foot aluminum rowboat while clutching Fujimoto's hand, trying to keep her head above water.

Anderson said he could see in the water that Fujimoto was badly injured — he saw what appeared to be intestines outside of her body near her belly button. But he didn't see the full extent of Fujimoto's wounds until after she was pulled from the water by Weber County Sheriff's deputies.

"They were heartbreaking," Anderson said of her injuries. "I saw the damage that I saw before, but both her legs, they got [it] bad. I kind of lost it at that point. She got messed up bad."

Jurors also saw a video re-enactment of Anderson rowing out to Fujimoto from his lakeshore home after hearing what he described as "blood-curdling screams."

After Anderson called 911, a Weber County Sheriff's boat responded, and deputies pulled Fujimoto from the water.

Weber County Fire District Capt. Mark Lund testified Tuesday that he jumped onto the sheriff's office boat after the boat he was in came near the scene. He saw an unresponsive Fujimoto, who had no pulse, was not breathing and was no longer bleeding from her injuries.

"I've seen a lot of things in my career," Lund said. "This was one of the worst."

Two women who were boating with Shepherd on that day testified that they spent much of their day wakeboarding or with the boat tied down at "Party Cove," where they had whipped cream-flavored vodka and spiced rum on Shepherd's boat.

And they said several people on the boat — but not Shepherd — smoked marijuana that day.

Both women said Shepherd appeared agitated or upset when they left the marina, which was closed for about two hours after the accident.

According to court documents, the boaters were questioned by wildlife officials later that day but did not disclose they were involved in an accident. The men also allegedly wiped down the boat before it could be examined by police. Neeley said in his opening statement that Shepherd did not talk to wildlife officials because he didn't know for sure if there was an accident, and they were initially told officials were looking for a blue boat, and his was white and green.

Fujimoto, 59, was a University of Utah medical researcher and a frequent swimmer at Pineview Reservoir, according to her brother, Bryan Fujimoto. He said Monday she had been to the reservoir to swim at least 1,000 times over the last 15 years.

All three boaters are charged with a class A misdemeanor count of obstructing justice. In addition, Raines and Shepherd are charged with reckless endangerment, a class A misdemeanor, and failure to render aid, a class B misdemeanor.

A trial for Raines and Boyer is set for February. Shepherd's trial resumes Thursday.

jmiller@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jm_miller