Boat owner back in custody for deadly boating accident

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TEMPLE, Texas (KWTX) The man accused of driving a houseboat during an accident that killed a 4-year-old girl and her father on Lake Belton was back in custody Monday.

Jason Bernal. (Jail photo)

Sergeant Mike Bolton with Temple police says Jason Bernal turned himself in around 6:30 a.m. at the Bell County Sheriff's Office on a Criminal Negligent Homicide charge.

The new warrant, issued by Justice of the Peace David Barfield, sets Bernal's bond at $200,000.

Bernal's legal representation from Blanchard & Thomas, LLP stated in a letter to News Ten Saturday that they have been in contact with Temple police, the Bell County District Attorney's Office, and a Bell County jail supervisor to coordinate a safe and efficient booking on the second complaint.

According to Bernal's attorney Bernal was never "on the run."

"To Whom It May Concern:
My name is Barrett Thomas. I represent Mr. Jason Bernal in a case pending against him for criminally negligent homicide. I have seen various reports indicating that Mr. Bernal is "on the run," and that the community should assist law enforcement in finding him. I have personally been in contact with law enforcement, including the Bell County District Attorney's Office, the investigating officer at Temple Police Department, and a Bell County jail supervisor for over two days. We have worked together over those two days to coordinate a safe and efficient booking on the second complaint. To say he is on the run is simply not true.
What is true, is that Mr. Bernal has already posted one $150,000 bond, and now he has been asked to post another $200,000 bond. That high of a bond on even one case of this level is extraordinary. Please investigate for yourself what the typical bond range is for offenses of this level. What is also true is that Mr. Bernal has no significant recent criminal history, there is currently no evidence he was intoxicated on the day of the accident, and that several witnesses have indicated his engine was running and he yelled, "clear," well before backing up his boat. Finally, it is true that Mr. Bernal has not yet been indicted—and may not ever be. Any charges against him have to be reviewed by the grand jury and that can't happen until the investigation is complete.
I agree with the community that this is an unspeakable tragedy. In fact, aside from the family of the victims, probably nobody feels that more than Mr. Bernal who is overwhelmed with grief. However, we must withhold judgment while this case is investigated. To convict an innocent man without due process for nothing more than a horrible accident would simply be another tragedy.
Respectfully,
C. Barrett Thomas, M.C.J.,J.D."

Bernal had previously been arrested on another warrant for criminally negligent homicide, but made bail on a $150,000 bond.

The new warrant was issued one day after 37-year-old Patrick Oliver passed away at Scott & White Medical Center in Temple.

Patrick was the father to Kaitlyn Oliver, the girl killed when a three-story houseboat backed over her and caught her in its propeller.

Patrick attempted to save his daughter, but lost his legs in the attempt.

Kaitlyn died at 7:45 p.m. on June 23rd at Scott & White Medical Center in Temple.

A preliminary autopsy report said her death was the result of numerous wounds and drowning.

Kaitlyn, who was wearing a lifejacket, was swimming back to shore with her father after the two of them took a boat ride when the accident happened, family member Christine Alfonso said.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Crotty Funeral Home in Belton has offered to cover funeral expenses just as it did for Kaitlyn Oliver.

The girl's aunt said last week that the father had been struggling with the situation.

“He’s having a hard time understanding that he couldn’t save his little girl,” she said.

“When he’s awake his heart rate gets too high because of how upset he is,” she said.

Alfonso says when he first came to his first concern was for his little girl.

"He started spelling Caitlin in his mom's hands and he had to hear the words. But he knew."

Family members were concerned about how he would react after he was no longer under sedation, she says.

"He lived for her. I know he lost his legs. But that's not what's going to break his heart. What's going to break his heart is knowing his little girl is not here anymore," Alfonso said.

The girl’s mother and grandmother were also in the hospital, according to DeLeon.

“My sister and my mom are both in hospital dealing with the emotional trauma to be under observation,” DeLeon said.

The grandmother lived with Patrick and the girl’s mother to help care for the little girl and was at the scene of the accident, the family says.

DeLeon says that Kaitlyn’s family members were not regular lake-goers and on Friday the little girl had just taken her first boat ride with a friend of the family whom they bumped into at Temple Lake Park.

The large houseboat backed into the girl and her father, despite shouts to stop, according to the original arrest affidavit.

Bernal told authorities “he put his boat into reverse and backed up his boat when someone told him to stop,” per the original affidavit.

He said “from the captain’s position in the boat, he could not see behind him because the boat is three stories tall," the affidavit said.

Video from an officer’s body camera showed that the “people behind the boat were standing in waist deep water.”

A witness told officers that “the boat was in full throttle while backing up,” the affidavit said.

A second witness who told investigators she was with the girl and her father “heard the houseboat motor start up and saw Kaitlyn Oliver and Patrick Oliver behind the boat.”

She said “she was shouting that people were behind the boat when the boat began to back up.”

The Temple Police Department’s Special Investigation's Unit is investigating.


(Photo by Kristen Victorin)