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No charges for jet ski operator in fatal accident

A letter from the DA's office to the detective in the case is shedding new light on what happened that tragic day.

Posted: Nov 6, 2020 5:33 PM
Updated: Nov 6, 2020 5:49 PM

SWEET HOME, Ore. – No charges will be filed against the jet ski operator involved in a fatal accident near Sweet Home in July.

A letter from the Linn County District Attorney’s Office to Detective Colin Pyle with the Linn County Sheriff’s Office is shedding more light on what happened that day.

Following an investigation by detectives and a review of the evidence, the district attorney’s office said they were unable to prove Antonio Cassanova-Gonzalez, 23, of Salem, was guilty of criminal negligence.

Zachary Maynard, 6, died three days after the accident and Kennedy Swenson, 6, was critically injured but survived.

According to the letter, Cassanova-Gonzalez was familiar with jet skis and had a boater education card, but the 2020 Sea-Doo he was operating that day at Foster Reservoir was relatively new to him.

He had stopped the jet ski and took off his life vest to take his shirt off but set the vest on the handlebar. The letter says it was this action that likely pressed the throttle down, causing the jet ski to accelerate and knocking Cassanova-Gonzalez off.

The kill switch, which is designed to stop a jet ski when the operator falls, was attached to the life vest, which is acceptable under Oregon law. However, because of this, the jet ski failed to stop and instead sped into the swim area at the reservoir, hitting the two children.

A boat picked up Cassanova-Gonzalez and brought him to shore.

There were no indications at the scene that the operator was impaired, and subsequent testing did not show signs of any illicit drugs or alcohol.

The letter adds Cassanova-Gonzalez cooperated with the investigation even after reports were forward to the DA’s office for review.

In order to level a charge of criminal negligence, the office said they would have to prove the man failed to be aware of a “substantial and unjustifiable” risk and that his actions were a “gross deviation” from the standard of care reasonable for the situation. They said they were unable to prove this within a reasonable doubt.

The DA’s office reviewed photos and more than 80 witness interviews, and the team visited the scene.

The letter ends with a statement regarding the victims: “We have learned through meeting with both families a little about the character of both these children. Zachary’s life will never be forgotten. It appears he touched the lives of many people in his short years of life. We wish all the best to Kennedy in her recovery.”

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