Man admits guilt in Lake LBJ boat death

by John Tedesco
A Section

All content (c) San Antonio Express-News

LLANO — More than a year after Laura Putnam drowned in the dark waters of Lake LBJ as a sleek speedboat sped away, the man accused of leaving her behind stood in court Friday, admitted his guilt and apologized to her family.

“Mr. and Mrs. Putnam … I want to give you my condolences,” said a subdued Robert “Triple” Corrigan III, a 29-year-old real estate salesman who lives in San Antonio.

He professed sorrow for their loss and pain and said they were in his prayers.

Corrigan pleaded guilty to failure to stop and render aid and was given a six-month jail sentence, 10 years deferred adjudication and a $10,000 fine by District Judge Guilford Jones.

By rolling the dice and entering the plea before the judge, Corrigan dodged a jury trial or a plea bargain with Llano County District Attorney Sam Oatman, avenues that could have resulted in a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Jones chastised Corrigan during the proceedings for the reckless act that claimed the life of Laura Putnam, a 23-year-old graduate of Texas Tech University.

The Putnams, when given a chance in court to address Corrigan, choked back tears.

They wondered why he stayed silent during the long months when no one claimed responsibility for the fatal May 26, 2003, boating wreck that killed their daughter and cast a pall over this sunny resort community.

It took nearly two weeks to find Laura Putnam’s decomposed body, and longer to discover a damaged speedboat in the dock of beer magnates Berkley and Vincent Dawson, owners of the Budweiser distributorship in San Antonio.

Corrigan, the boyfriend of Berkley Dawson’s daughter, admitted for the first time Friday that he had been driving the boat that slammed into Laura Putnam’s watercraft and knocked her unconscious into the lake.

“She did not have to die that night,” Betty Putnam told Corrigan. “We’ll never know, because after she was struck by your boat, you ran.

“Damn you for that.”

Corrigan pleaded guilty during what was supposed to be a routine court hearing. He was scheduled to stand trial Nov. 1.

“I’m going to throw the book at you, but I’m only going to throw part of it at you,” Jones told Corrigan.

Saying he saw hope for Corrigan to lead a good life, the judge sentenced him to 180 days in jail and 10 years deferred adjudication, which is similar to probation. If Corrigan does not commit a crime during that period, a conviction will not appear on his criminal record.

Corrigan faced prison time of two to 10 years. But with deferred adjudication, the most time the judge could mete out was drastically reduced under state law to 180 days.

Jones also fined Corrigan $10,000, barred him from ever owning a boat and ordered him to remain in his home during the next three Memorial Day weekends “to think about the consequences of your totally selfish, irresponsible, amoral act.”

The circumstances suggest Corrigan’s lawyers felt they would have better luck with the judge than with a plea arrangement with District Attorney Oatman, or before a jury.

Oatman acknowledged the emotional pain suffered by the Putnams would have swayed a jury far more than a judge when it came to Corrigan’s sentence. He said “we wanted more” than what the judge handed down Friday, but added that no firm plea offers had been on the table.

“If the family can live with it, I can live with it,” Oatman said of the sentence.

In a separate civil lawsuit filed by the Putnams against Corrigan, the insurance company for Berkley Dawson has agreed to settle the case for $2.5 million, according to the Putnams’ lawyer, Greg Marks.

The Putnams said they were unhappy with the amount of prison time Corrigan must serve, but they expressed relief that a dark chapter of their lives was over.

Betty Putnam, her husband, Judd, and son Phillip gave heart-wrenching speeches to Corrigan that made some courtroom observers cry.

“Quite simply, there’s nothing I can say to you or your family to give you any idea what we’re going through,” Betty Putnam told Corrigan, who sat still as each family member spoke.

Two rows behind her son, Corrigan’s mother sat unmoving but not unmoved. His father at times leaned forward, bowed his head and held his hands over a courtroom seat, as if he were praying at a church pew.

They listened as Betty Putnam told them how having a child changes you forever — and so does living with the pain of losing one.

“This heavy, pervading sadness will always be a big part of who I am,” Putnam said.

What she and her family have left are small lockets they each wear around their necks with Laura Putnam’s ashes.

“We all wear them,” Betty Putnam said. “And we’ll be buried with them.”

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