CHATHAM — Did Drewry Hall do everything possible to avoid hitting a jet ski last July on Smith Mountain Lake? That was the question asked of every witness who testified in the Martinsville man’s trial.
The now 21-yrear-old Hall currently faces misdemeanor charges of operating a boat in a reckless manner, purchasing or being in possession of alcohol and getting documents to make a false statement. Hall faces the possession of alcohol charge because he was 20 when the incident occurred last July. In Virginia, a person under 21 can only drink at a private home, office or other private property with parental consent. Smith Mountain Lake doesn’t meet those requirements.
The charges stem from the death of Gabby Ayers, of Clemmons, North Carolina, who was killed after the Polaris personal watercraft she was a passenger on collided with a 21-foot Key West Boat on Smith Mountain Lake. The 17-year-old Ayers was riding the watercraft with her friend, 19-year-old William Brandt, whose grandparents own a house on the lake. Hall was the driver of that Key West Boat and had 22-year-old Capers Penn Zentmeyer along for the ride. Both men helped pull Ayers and Brandt to shore after the wreck.
On Tuesday, however, witnesses testified that the boat did not appear to do anything to avoid collision. During the nearly 3 ½ hour court hearing Tuesday, the prosecution called several witnesses but did not complete its case. The trial will resume Aug. 14 at 11 a.m.
James Layne testified that he saw the Key West Boat with its nose in the air strike the (10-foot) jet ski and pass over it. Layne said he did not see the boat take any action to avoid collision, however he did not see what happened before the impact.
Layne testified that he was onshore when the collision occurred and that he and others hollered at the boat to turn around because it had hit the jet ski. He said the boat did return, and he saw one person jump out of the Key West boat fully clothed and without a life jacket to try to rescue the victims and pull them back to the boat. Layne said the Key West boat did not try to flee after the collision.
Frances Ella Brandt — a friend of Gabby Ayers and sister of William Rentz Brandt, who was operating the jet ski – testified that she saw the Key West boat hit the jet ski. She said the boat was traveling “very fast,” in her estimation.
James Jefferson estimated the Key West Boat was traveling about 45 miles per hour at impact and he didn’t see the boat take any action to avoid colliding with the jet ski. He said variously that the jet ski was not going too fast and was about still. Several other witnesses testified that the jet ski was slow moving or appeared to be about still in the water.
William Brandt, who was operating the jet ski, testified that he did not remember the actual collision, but the last…