Family reacts to guilty verdict in boating death of Hancock Co. teen

Family reacts to guilty verdict in boating death of Hancock Co. teen
Family of 19-year-old Vanessa Mauffray say they are relieved to know that the man responsible for her death is going to prison. (Source: WLOX)

HANCOCK COUNTY, Miss. (WLOX) - The family of a Hancock County teen killed in a boating accident said they’re feeling some relief now that the man responsible for her death is headed to prison.

Vanessa Mauffray, 19, died in a fatal boat crash in 2016.
Vanessa Mauffray, 19, died in a fatal boat crash in 2016. (Source: WLOX)

On Friday, a jury convicted Eugene Michael Butler, Jr. in the 2016 death of Vanessa Mauffray.

However, that guilty verdict only brings a small sense of closure for Mauffray’s family as they painfully move forward.

“I’m lost without her. I’m lost,” said the 19-year-old’s mother, Darlene Deschamp.

The family of a Hancock County teen killed in a boating accident said they’re feeling some relief now that the man responsible for her death is headed to prison.
The family of a Hancock County teen killed in a boating accident said they’re feeling some relief now that the man responsible for her death is headed to prison. (Source: WLOX)

For Mauffray’s family, every day without her is another day of heartache and pain.

“We’re all picking up the pieces trying to put them all together and make them fit where they don’t. You just try to make it work,” said Victoria McKinley, Mauffray’s sister.

In June 2016, Mauffray and her boyfriend were in a skiff setting crab traps on Bayou Caddy. Butler, who was driving a 20-foot fishing boat, crashed into the couple’s skiff. Officials said Mauffray died hours later as a result of traumatic injuries sustained during that crash.

Friday, a jury found Butler guilty of negligently operating his boat, causing the 19-year-old’s death.

It's a verdict her family has waited three years for, though it does little to heal the pain.

Eugene Butler Jr., 47, was found guilty of negligence in the 2016 boating death of Vanessa Mauffray.
Eugene Butler Jr., 47, was found guilty of negligence in the 2016 boating death of Vanessa Mauffray. (Source: Harrison County Sheriff's Dept.)

“It was like OK, he’s guilty but does she get to come home? No. I mean it doesn’t make it better in the sense that everything is going to go back to normal. It’s not, but it makes it better in knowing that now he doesn’t get to make any more of those bad choices," McKinley said.

During the five-day trial, experts testified that Butler had more than 600-feet of straightaway to see Mauffray’s boat and make corrections.

A blood test also showed he had THC in his system at the time of the crash.

“It was avoidable to me, and that’s the thing. It was avoidable,” Deschamp said.

That's why Mauffray's mother now hopes her daughter's death will spark changes to boating laws and encourage people to make safer choices.

Vanessa Mauffray, 19, was killed when a boat struck the boat that she was on in June of 2016.
Vanessa Mauffray, 19, was killed when a boat struck the boat that she was on in June of 2016. (Source: Mauffray Family)

“I do believe the laws need to be changed. A boat, you driving the boat, you drive a car. It should be the same thing. Pay attention because I would never wish this on anyone, ever, and it could happen to anybody,” Deschamp said.

Butler faces up to 20 years in prison, but Mauffray’s sister said that’s not enough.

“Regardless he could get the maximum, and it doesn’t give us anything back. It doesn’t in comparison; we lost so much and he’s going to lose so little," McKinley said.

“People say to forgive so that you don’t have hate in your heart. I’m sorry. I will never ever forgive him because it was avoidable,” Deschamp said.

Butler is set to be sentenced later this month.

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