LINCOLNTON The vice president of a company that installed the fuel system in a marina where a boat exploded in 2008, killing 19-year-old Nate Coppick, testified on Friday his company didnt install the nozzle on the fuel dispenser the victim was using to refill the vessel.
Wilson was the last defense witness called in the civil lawsuit against Petroleum Equipment and Service of Denver.
Coppick, who worked at the marina, was killed on June 10, 2008, while refueling an 80-foot charter boat. Suits against the marina owner and boat owner were settled out of court.
An attorney for the Coppick estate has told the court that the fuel nozzle hold-open latch that Coppick was using didnt function properly and that at least 30 gallons of gas overflowed.
Wilsons voice broke Friday as he described Coppick as a very nice, hard-working young man. While he felt deeply saddened by Coppicks death, Wilson told the juror: I do not feel responsible.
Petroleum Equipment installed the fuel dispensing system in 1998. But Wilson said three years went by before the company started occasionally servicing the fuel equipment at Westport marina.
Wilson said that in 2005 the company sold the marina a nozzle identified as a standard model, according to records. Wilson said fuel nozzles typically last about a year and are then discarded.
In 2006, the company replaced five pressure-activated nozzles at Westport. Two years later, on June 10, 2008, the standard model nozzle turned up on the fuel dispenser used to refill the boat that exploded.
Wilson said Petroleum Equipment would not have installed a used nozzle and would have had a new one tested for leaks, fuel flow and shutoff.
Under cross-examination, Jason White, an attorney for the Coppick estate, asked Wilson: Isnt this the first time ever youve told anybody you didnt install that nozzle?
Yes, Wilson replied.
On Friday morning, a question about the key fuel nozzle led to defense attorney John Holden being lambasted by Superior Court Judge Forrest Bridges.
In the absence of the jury, Holden explained he wanted to authenticate a document from a company that manufactures nozzles. This was central to proving it was the wrong nozzle, Holden said. He contended the nozzle on the dispenser that refueled the boat that exploded had been taken off in 2006 and reinstalled on a land fuel dispenser, not at the marina.
Somehow, over the years, it made its way (back) to where it ultimately ended up, he said.
Holden planned a video conference in the courtroom, wanting to question a company executive in St. Louis.
Forrest Ferrell, attorney for the plaintiff, objected and said hed never the seen the document. This is totally an ambush , he said. This is totally unfair.
Bridges said the document had never been provided to the plaintiff and was another example of Holdens repeated evasion in the discovery process. Calling Holdens methods gutter tactics, Bridges said the lawyer could have tried the case in an honest, forthcoming manner.
But hes chosen not to do that, said Bridges, who sustained the plaintiffs objections.
Holden apologized and said this is not an attempt to ambush.
Boat owner testifies
Earlier testimony on Friday came from defense witness Cliff Champion, owner of the boat that exploded on June 10, 2008.
Champion said his charter boat had returned to the marina from carrying a group of high school students to a graduation party on Lake Norman.
Among the deck hands working for him was Nate Coppick. Champion said that although Coppick was a Westport employee on occasion he worked for me when he was not busy on the marina.
Champion said he was in the living room on the main lower deck of the boat with friends when the explosion occurred. He said the boats generator and air conditioning were running, but I didnt know anybody was fueling the boat.
Champion testified that he hadnt instructed anybody to refuel the vessel.
Under cross-examination by the plaintiffs attorney, he denied telling an investigator at the time of the accident that the gas pump had been activated and that Coppick was refueling. Champion said hed told Coppick to pump the boat out, not fuel it up.
Champion also said we never fueled it up with people on the boat.
Due to the unavailability of a courtroom early next week, court recessed until Wednesday when closing arguments are expected to begin.
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