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Man on boat involved in fatal Berlin Lake collision recalls crash

Defense for Valley surgeon claims deadly boat accident was a ... ‘Perfect storm’

By Justin Wier

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Dr. Joseph Yurich faces multiple charges in 2015 death of Akron man on Berlin Reservoir

By Justin Wier


Bruce Lindamood, one of three witnesses called by the defense Monday in the vehicular homicide trial of Dr. Joseph Yurich, recalled the night his friend Neal Cuppett died in a boat crash.

Lindamood, who was fishing on Berlin Reservoir with Cuppett in 2015, turned as his friend asked, “What’s this guy doing?” as a boat approached.

Lindamood remembers seeing a bright light and then almost instantly falling into the water.

He was hit by something under the water, injuring his arm.

When he came to the surface, he saw a light and heard a man repeatedly asking, “What the [expletive] are you doing out here?”

That man then sped off in his boat.

It was only when Lindamood returned to the boat that he realized Cuppett was missing.

Dr. Yurich waived his right to a jury trial Monday morning, in favor of a bench trial.

Dr. Yurich, 38, of Poland is charged with aggravated vehicular homicide in the death of Cuppett, 58, of Akron, from injuries he received in that May 9, 2015 crash.

The surgeon also faces charges of aggravated vehicular assault involving injuries suffered by Cuppett’s fishing partner, Bruce Lindamood, 42, of Green, and with failure to stop after an accident and one count of operating a watercraft while impaired.

Prosecutors dismissed a second count for operating a vehicle while intoxicated with a blood-alcohol content greater than the legal limit of 0.08.

Last year, Judge John M. Durkin decided to exclude blood and urine samples from evidence in the trial because they went unrefrigerated for more than 62 hours before being taken to a forensic laboratory, which is a violation of state law.

In the excluded sample, Dr. Yurich had a blood-alcohol content of 0.152, a toxicologist reported.

If convicted of aggravated vehicular homicide, Dr. Yurich will face a mandatory prison sentence of 2 to 8 years.

The prosecution also called Cuppett’s wife, Jenny, and Lt. Richard Noland of the Portage County Sherriff’s Office, who responded to the call.

Cuppett’s wife said she heard her husband was injured from a message left on her answering machine by the hospital. The couple had been married 23 years.

The defense argued Cuppett’s death was a terrible accident.

“It was a perfect storm: dark night, poor lighting, poor location and a little bit too much speed,” said John Juhasz, an attorney representing Dr. Yurich, in his opening statement.

Under questioning from Juhasz, Lindamood insisted the boat was properly lit.

Dr. Yurich neither heard nor saw anyone around him after a collision, and he sped home because he worried his boat would sink after hitting what he thought was a rock, his attorney said.

While the defense is arguing that Dr. Yurich was neither intoxicated nor reckless, the prosecution claims the surgeon was intoxicated and left because he was looking out for himself.

“That night, the defendant decided to operate his vehicle while intoxicated, and he took [Cuppett’s] life,” said Marybeth Digravio, an attorney prosecuting the case.

The prosecution has eight more witnesses scheduled for today and court will resume at 9 a.m.