FERGUS FALLS, Minn. — Relatives of an Elysian, Minnesota, man killed in a boating crash said the 74-year-old boater who caused the collision stole more than just their loved one last year in Otter Tail County.
The wife, daughters and sisters of 52-year-old Neil "Pat" Baker gave emotional testimony Wednesday, Nov. 24, in Otter Tail County District Court before Judge Sharon Benson sentenced Charles Willis Gramith of Roseville, Minnesota, to 113 days in jail and two months of house arrest. Gramith pleaded guilty in August to a felony charge of criminal vehicular homicide that said he caused a crash that killed Baker instantly.
"The defendant didn't just take away one person," Baker's daughter, Hayley Baker, said. "He destroyed a family, a lifetime of memories."
Four other charges were dismissed, including three that alleged he was under the influence of alcohol or intoxicating substances. The count he pleaded guilty to said he left the scene of the crash.
He will get credit for four days of time served. He also must do annual speaking events about watercraft safety for 10 years, which is how long his probation will last.
Gramith crashed his boat on Aug. 22, 2020, into Baker’s docked boat near 30529 Minnesota Highway 78 on the northeast side of Otter Tail Lake, according to the criminal complaint.
Baker’s wife, Pamela, told investigators she was helping her husband tie the boat to their dock when they saw their next-door neighbor, Gramith, driving toward them at a high rate of speed, court documents said. She then said “he’s coming in hot” before Gramith crashed into their boat, according to the criminal complaint.
The collision knocked Pamela Baker down but she survived the crash. Neil Baker was found in the water.
Gramith told investigators he had two beers while driving the boat and one before, the complaint said. He then parked his boat on a lift, the complaint said.
Instead of going into the water to help Neil Baker, Gramith went into his house to get a glass of water because it was hot, the complaint said.
A preliminary test showed he had a blood alcohol content of 0.051%, but a doctor who prepared a toxicology report said that level was inconsistent with the amount Gramith reported drinking, an amended complaint said.
The doctor said Gramith's blood alcohol level should have been 0.081%, or just above the legal limit, the complaint said. The doctor added that medications Gramith was taking at the time could have increased the impairing effects of alcohol, according to the complaint.
Gramith faced a maximum of 10 years in prison on the criminal vehicular homicide charge. His lack of criminal history, cooperation with the investigation and other factors worked in his favor to get a lower sentence, Gramith's attorney Debbie Lang said.
Family recalled how kind and caring Neil Baker was, adding he enjoyed the outdoors and the lake. His death was tragic, senseless and ruined the memories family created on the lake, said his sister, Colleen Keough.
"Pat was a very good man, and you are not," she said in addressing Gramith, adding that his selfish, poor judgment stole Neil Baker from them. "I hope you suffer for the rest of your life as we have."
Gramith showed little emotion throughout the hearing. He said he was sorry for what happened and would think about the Bakers everyday for the rest of his life.
"I take responsibility for Pat's death, as I was driving the boat and didn't enter the water to help," Gramith said.
He must report Dec. 28 to jail.