Crime

‘Ryan, I’m sorry.’ Manslaughter trial begins in boat crash death of Vanessa Mauffray.

When Victoria McKinley’s baby sister died in a tragic boat crash more than three years ago, she said she had no idea she’d lose her brother, too.

Vanessa Mauffray and her boyfriend were out on Bayou Caddy setting crab traps on June 25, 2016, when another boat allegedly broadsided the couple’s boat.

Vanessa, who was awake after the accident, suffered from internal injuries and died hours later at Memorial Hospital at Gulfport. She was 19 and the youngest child.

McKinley, 29, said she’s only seen her brother, Victor Mauffray, a handful of times since Vanessa’s death because she reminds Victor too much of Vanessa.

“Victor physically can’t deal with her death,” McKinley said while choking back tears Monday at the Hancock County Courthouse. “I lost Vanessa and Victor.”

The driver of the other boat, Eugene Butler Jr., was indicted on a manslaughter charge in Vanessa’s death in 2017. Butler was initially charged with boating under the influence.

His trial began Monday in Hancock County Circuit Court.

About 20 of Vanessa’s family members attended the first day of trial that began after jury selection. Most of them wore purple, Vanessa’s favorite color.

Mauffray’s boyfriend, 28-year-old Ryan Necaise, testified that Vanessa agreed to go out on the boat with him the morning of the collision to set crab traps. Necaise said he saw Butler’s boat come around a curve and never correct into his lane of the bayou. Ryan tried to get Butler’s attention, he said on the stand, but Butler was not facing Necaise until the final seconds before the collision. Ryan said he thought about jumping in the water but wouldn’t leave Vanessa. He threw himself to the bottom of the boat, but Vanessa was sitting in a chair and could not move, he said.

“When Eugene come around the curve, he took the whole curve because he was coming so fast, and he never went back over,” Necaise said.

After the crash, Vanessa told Necaise she was hurting in her stomach as they made it to the bank and called for help. The 911 tape was played in court.

Necaise testified that the collision would not have happened had Butler been paying attention.

“When I was standing on the bank, he kept apologizing to me. He said, ‘Ryan, I’m sorry,’ about 20 times,” Ryan told Butler’s attorney, Mike Hester, during cross examination. “He wasn’t paying attention.”

Hester questioned Ryan’s statements to authorities and asked questions about the measurements of the bayou. He also questioned the color of the fishing poles found on the boat and asked if Necaise had a permit to set out crab traps. Necaise said he could not remember some details because the wreck occurred three years ago.

“I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to not remember,” Necaise said.

Necaise said his boat was in neutral near the bank as Butler quickly approached, and he did not have time to move by the time he realized Butler wasn’t going to correct his track.

Hester said Necaise had at least 20 seconds from seeing Butler’s boat to take “evasive action,” but Necaise said it all happened in a “split second” and it was not possible to get he and Vanessa to safety.

Judge Larry Bourgeois is presiding over the trial. District Attorneys Chris Daniels and Crosby Parker are prosecuting the case.

Testimony resumes at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

McKinley said she is relieved the trial is finally happening, but she said she and her mother, Darlene Deschamp, will never feel closure from losing Vanessa.

“I think closure is just a figment of people’s imagination ... it’ll never be enough to replace her.”

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Justin Mitchell is the southern regional growth editor for the Biloxi Sun Herald, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer and Macon Telegraph. He also reports on LGBTQ issues in the Deep South. He loves karaoke, Lizzo, the Kardashians and carbs.
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