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Published: Thursday, 3/1/2007

Boater indicted in man's 2002 drowning

Speer Speer

PORT CLINTON - Four and a half years after a Barberton, Ohio, man drowned in Lake Erie, the operator of the boat he was riding in has been indicted for his murder.

Scott A. Speer, 41, of Fairlawn, Ohio, near Akron, was indicted by an Ottawa County grand jury Tuesday for aggravated murder and murder in the death of James Barnett, 40, who was a passenger on a speed boat driven by Mr. Speer near Catawba Island on Aug. 6, 2002. His body was recovered the following day.

Ottawa County Prosecutor Mark Mulligan said yesterday that investigators now believe Mr. Speer pushed Mr. Barnett overboard. He said he did not know of a motive in the case nor could he say how the two men knew each other.

Following his indictment, Mr. Speer was picked up in Summit County on an arrest warrant and brought to Port Clinton. He was booked into the county jail about 2 a.m. yesterday where he was being held without bond.

In a motion filed yesterday afternoon, Mr. Mulligan asked the court to deny bail for Mr. Speer and asked that he be allowed to take the deposition of a key witness in the case.

"Admittedly much of the state's case with respect to the latest charges falls on the shoulders of one witness," he wrote in the motion. "Obviously the state believes the defendant has murdered one person. The incentive to harm, intimidate, or even murder this crucial new witness will be considerable."

He said taking the witness' deposition "would lessen the danger to the witness should the defendant be released."

Mr. Speer's attorney, Russell Buzzelli of Wadsworth, Ohio, could not be reached for comment.

At the time of Mr. Barnett's drowning, Mr. Speer told authorities he and Mr. Barnett were returning from Put-in-Bay when Mr. Barnett fell overboard. Mr. Speer reportedly said he searched for Mr. Barnett then called 911 from his cell phone about 2 a.m.

Mr. Mulligan said investigators with the Danbury Township police, Ottawa County Sheriff's Office, Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Watercraft, and the Ottawa County Drug Task Force followed up on tips that led them to information that Mr. Speer had not been forthcoming about what led up to Mr. Barnett's death.

Mr. Speer was first indicted last year on less serious charges of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated vehicular homicide, which alleged only that he was negligent in causing Mr. Barnett's death.

Mr. Mulligan said he did not plan to ask that those charges be dismissed in light of the new indictment.

Mr. Speer is to appear in Ottawa County Common Pleas Court for an initial appearance and bond hearing tomorrow.

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