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Family of woman killed in boating accident copes with the heartbreak

Jury to begin deliberations in trial Friday

Published: Thursday, Dec. 13 2012 5:20 p.m. MST

OGDEN— Esther Fujimoto's family came from California and Hawaii and Idaho.

Not for a holiday gathering or a family reunion, though her four siblings were united. Instead, they sat together in an Ogden courtroom on a gray Thursday as advocates for their youngest sister.

Only one would take the witness stand in the trial of Skyler Shepherd, 22, who is one of three men charged in connection with Fujimoto's death while swimming at Pineview Reservoir. But all were there to send a message.

"There is an outrage, from family and friends and, I believe, society at large," Bryan Fujimoto said. "There is the outrage that these things should not go unpunished."

Friday a jury will be asked to determine whether there is a need for punishment when they are asked to either convict or acquit Shepherd on charges of reckless endangerment and obstruction of justice, both class A misdemeanors, as well as failure to render aid, a class B misdemeanor.

His attorney, Glen Neeley, said Shepherd did not know Esther Fujimoto was mortally wounded by the boat Shepherd, Colton Raines and Robert Cole Boyer were in on Aug. 21, 2011. But prosecutors and Fujimoto's siblings said they had to have known and sealed her fate by leaving her in the water.

A family story

The Fujimotos grew up in Eastern Idaho, swimming in canals and playing with trucks and dolls. But eventually Esther and Denice Fujimoto both came to Utah. Esther was 49 on the day she died at the lake. Denice testified Thursday that they had probably lived together for 45 of those years.

One hundred days each summer, Denice estimated, they swam together. The swims  began in the late 1990s and the pair favored Pineview Reservoir.

"Every day, seven days a week, weather conditions permitting," Bryan Fujimoto said. "I added it up and over fifteen years she probably swam there 1,000 times. … That speaks to her dedication. That speaks to who she was."

Aug. 21, 2011, was no different. Esther, a pharmacy technician at Ogden Regional Medical Center and a lab specialist at the University of Utah, got off work at Ogden Regional and the sisters drove to Pineview. By the time they had put on their wetsuits, it was 7:35 p.m.

They typically swam for two hours. They arranged to meet around 9:40 p.m. Denice is the first to concede that Esther was the stronger swimmer. Esther swam ahead.

Denice turned and swam away. She said she did not hear a scream, but saw police lights. She went to the beach around 9:30 p.m. and waited for her sister.

"I saw police lights, but I didn't know what happened," she said. "I didn't know until after 10 p.m."

She didn't know that a man named Vaughn Anderson had heard a scream from his porch along the reservoir's shore and saw a boat stop and ask a woman he had seen swimming before if she needed help — or that Anderson would row to Esther Fujimoto and try to save her, calling 911.

She knew when a Weber County Sheriff's detective informed her that Esther had been hit by a boat propeller. Todd Grey, Utah's chief medical examiner, has testified that Fujimoto suffered "multiple chopping injuries" consistent with being struck by a propeller and ultimately bled to death.

"I think these would be horribly painful injuries," Grey said at a prior hearing. "She would be in excruciating pain."

Sister as victim

What Bryan Fujimoto called "graphic, grotesque" photos of his sister's broken body were shown in court. This has been difficult for them to see and they know they are charged with reinforcing her memory.

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