In dramatic testimony about a boat crash that killed two people, a 45-year-old defendant sobbed and wiped his eyes on the witness stand Wednesday.

James Thiel Sr., of Pleasant Valley, is accused of unintentionally causing the deaths of Craig Verbeke and Dr. Anita Pinc on Aug. 16, 2020, when two boats collided.

Before Thiel Sr. began his testimony at 3 p.m., the judge dismissed the jury and asked Thiel whether he had talked with his attorney about testifying. He said he had.

When the jurors returned, Thiel took the stand in a pin-drop-quiet courtroom.

He could not stop the tears at first, saying “I can’t imagine what you guys went through,” and “I’m sorry.”

Thiel said he grew up on the river and comes from a boating family. “I’ve been up and down that stretch my entire life,” he said.

Thiel said his son James Jr., who was driving the boat, was “absolutely not” racing during the incident, and is an experienced boater. “He’s always in control of the boat,” he said.

The Thiel family had taken the Brooke and Spencer Jewell family out on the boat for the afternoon. They had gone to lunch at the Candlelight Inn in Clinton.

Thiel drew a diagram for the jury, and said the other boat driver cut in front of them.

“I saw him. I said ‘What is this guy doing?’” His son had started slowing down, he said.

“He turned, and we turned, and then we collided right there,” Thiel testified.

Thiel was thrown out of the boat, and immediately began to look for other people in the water. He remembers screaming for help.

He said he began CPR on Verbeke. “I tried to determine if he was breathing or not,” he said.

He said he felt safe on the boat with his son driving. “I would do it 100 times over,” he said.

Rebuttal witnesses are expected to testify Thursday, when closing arguments may be given.

In June 2021, Thiel pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter. That felony charge is punishable by a prison term of up to five years and up to a $10,245 fine.