A jury has found a man guilty of vessel homicide after he left the scene of a boat crash that killed 57-year-old Onofrio Sozio near Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park and north of Vanderbilt Beach in North Naples in 2020.
There were tears in the courtroom. The victim’s family patiently awaited a verdict for hours, and after three years of being back and forth in the courthouse, the victim’s son said his family finally feels some sense of closure.
On March 5, 2020, 78-year-old James Allen hit and killed 57-year-old Onofrio Sozio with his boat near Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park.
A jury of six found Allen guilty on two counts. One of vessel homicide, a second-degree felony, and two, violating a county ordinance.
However, the jury made a unanimous decision that Allen was not guilty of leaving the scene of the vessel accident.
The victim’s son, Nick Sozio, listened as the judge read aloud the jury’s verdict. “The last thing I wanted to add was that of all the emotions that have come up today. And over the past week, one of the ones that comes to the forefront is gratitude. Gratitude for all of the people that day who chose not to just be bystanders, but instead jump up to help both the beachgoers and the professionals who were there that day, and the public servants who have worked tirelessly for three years to help bring our family some closure and bring some safety to Florida.”
While we know the jury was able to find Allen guilty on two of the three charges, we don’t know what the consequence will be. For now, he’s behind bars at the Collier County Jail until a sentencing hearing scheduled for March 14.
During the closing arguments in the trial on Thursday, investigators said they believe Allen and his brother, John, knew they hit someone or something but instead steered the boat away.
Allen’s lawyers said he did everything he could to save the victim, but the state argued Allen sped away and never called 911.
Both sides showed a video from the Ritz-Carlton showing the crash on Thursday.
Allen took the stand in his own defense. He told the jury he saw a swimmer in the water, and he first threw a floatation device to him. Then he tried to hand him a life jacket.
“It was one that strapped around you, and I handed it to him from the front edge of the boat. And he said to me, I cannot put it on, and I took it back and put it back,” said Allen.
“Not asking you to decide if he is a bad person, not asking you to decide if he is a good person, not asking you to decide his character. I’m asking you to decide his actions. What did he do, hold him accountable, whether he knew what the law was, and he’s an experienced boater… he knew he shouldn’t have been going like that there,” said Prosecutor Mara Marzano.
When asked if he could have lifted the victim on his boat, Allen said no. When asked if he did all he could to save Sozio, Allen said yes.