Saratoga County District Attorney Karen A. Heggen announces that Blake A. Heflin, 20, of Malta, New York, pled guilty in Saratoga County Court to Assault in the Third Degree, in violation of New York State Penal Law Section 120.00(3) and Boating While Intoxicated, in violation of New State Navigation Law Section 49-a(2)(d), before Saratoga County Court Judge James A. Murphy, III. Both counts are misdemeanors.
An investigation by the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office revealed that on July 4, 2021, Defendant Heflin, several underage individuals and a number of adults hosted an underage drinking party in the area of Sandy Bay on Saratoga Lake.
The investigation further revealed that just before 7 p.m. that evening, Defendant Heflin and several individuals departed the area of Sandy Bay on defendant’s pontoon boat, and traveled in a southerly direction on Saratoga Lake toward Brown’s Beach. Witnesses observed passengers on the pontoon boat jumping off the side of the boat while the boat was moving. It was determined that one of those passengers-Ian Gerber-later jumped off the starboard side of defendant’s pontoon boat as it was moving. The defendant, while operating his boat in an intoxicated condition, turned the pontoon boat away from Gerber while he was in the water, thus exposing Gerber to the boat’s propeller. While in the water, Gerber sustained injuries that ultimately caused his death. The investigation also revealed that a second boat in the area may have also struck Gerber while he was in the water.
Defendant was interviewed by police immediately after the incident, and it was determined that the defendant was intoxicated at the time of the incident. Five additional passengers on the pontoon boat-acquaintances of both defendant and Gerber-provided statements to police immediately after the incident. All of the passengers on the pontoon boat claimed that the pontoon boat was not involved. The operator of the second boat and his passenger were interviewed by police and cooperated with the investigation.
As the investigation continued, the Sheriff’s Office sought assistance from several boating experts, the New York State Police Forensic Identification Unit, a forensic pathologist and an outside biochemical expert. With the assistance of these outside sources and through physical and scientific evidence collected from the two boats, the Sheriff’s Office determined that the defendant’s pontoon boat struck Gerber while he was in the water, causing traumatic injuries. The evidence also revealed that Gerber had also been struck by a second boat while already incapacitated in the water.
Later in the investigation, the passengers from the pontoon boat provided conflicting information about what had occurred, which materially differed from the prior sworn statements they had given to police. Ultimately, the only eyewitnesses to what occurred refused to cooperate with the investigation.
Saratoga County District Attorney Heggen noted that “this incident was entirely avoidable, had Defendant Heflin and those around him made better choices that day. This tragedy would not have occurred if the defendant had not been drinking, and had the parents of individuals on the water intervened. Defendant’s choice to consume alcohol while underage, and to operate his boat while in an intoxicated condition, ultimately led to the tragic death of Mr. Gerber.”
Heggen further noted that the defendant’s acceptance of responsibility was the ultimate goal, as this case presented a unique set of circumstance which made prosecution extremely difficult. Unfortunately, only the individuals who were on the pontoon at the time of Mr. Gerber’s death can tell us what occurred. We cannot force those individuals to tell the truth.
Heflin will be sentenced on March 23, 2022 by Saratoga County Court Judge James A. Murphy, II, where it is expected he will be sentenced to a 3-year term of probation, and his boat operating privileges will be revoked for at least one year.