OGDEN — A man accused of leaving an injured University of Utah scientist in Pineview Reservoir after she was struck by a boat and severely injured — and eventually died from her wounds — was found guilty on all three counts he faced Friday.
A five-man, one-woman jury deliberated about 90 minutes before finding Skyler Shepherd, 22, guilty of reckless endangerment and obstruction of justice, both misdemeanors, as well as failure to render aid, also a misdemeanor, in connection with the Aug. 21, 2011, death of Esther Fujimoto, 49.
"We were pleased with the proceedings and the outcome," said Fujimoto's brother, Andy Fujimoto. "This communicates that there is justice for Esther, but that there's even a bigger cause we're fighting for. This tells us that as a community we ought to take care of each other and look out for each other."
Shepherd's sentencing was scheduled for Jan. 23. He faces up to 2½ years in jail.
Esther Fujimoto was swimming with her sister near the Spring Creek area of Pineview Reservoir on Aug. 21, 2011, when she was struck by a boat allegedly driven by Colton Raines. Shepherd said he took the helm after Raines swerved and turned the boat around to check on the woman. He said Fujimoto told him she was OK and appeared angry, prompting Shepherd, Raines and Robert Cole Boyer to leave.
Shepherd said he did not realize the woman was injured. 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.
Andy Fujimoto said he had worried about the things his sister, a cancer researcher at the University of Utah, would not be able to do because of her death. Hers was a life committed to helping her fellow man, and the question of that duty to help others was a key factor in the case.
"In Esther's own way, she made a sacrifice — a big sacrifice — to make this happen, and I hope that message doesn't get lost here," he said. "I think this case communicates to our community what we should be doing."
Prosecutors argued that it is not reasonable to believe the men did not know they hit and injured Fujimoto. Defense attorney Glen Neeley said his client had no idea what had happened and made a mistake. He pointed out that Shepherd was the one who checked on the woman and was cooperative with police.
Andy Fujimoto said he felt validated when the jury returned its verdict. He said he has confidence in the judicial system and is grateful for it.4 comments on this story
The cases against Boyer and Raines are set for trial in February. Boyer is facing a charge of obstruction of justice, a class A misdemeanor. Raines is facing the same three charges as Shepherd.
Andy Fujimoto said that while the process has been difficult for his family, they plan to attend those trials as well.
"Just as the jurors provide service, just as the attorneys and judges and so forth, we have a role to play, and I'm certainly willing to fulfill that responsibility," he said. "It may not be the most pleasant of duties, but in February, we plan to gather again."