Driver In Boat Crash That Killed 2 UA Students Pleads Not Guilty

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

The University of Arkansas student who drove the boat in a crash that killed two of his classmates pleaded not guilty to manslaughter charges Friday in Delaware County, according to court records.

The Delaware County District Attorney filed two manslaughter charges against John DeSelms in September in connection with the fatal crash after the suspect allegedly admitted to drinking heavily and taking drugs prior to the wreck. DeSelms pleaded not guilty Friday in Delaware County District Court to first-degree manslaughter, according to records from the court appearance.

Not guilty pleas are common at arraignments in order for the cases to progress through the court system.

DeSelms appeared at the arraignment in-person with his attorney, court records show. His next court date is scheduled for July 28, 2014, at 10 a.m.

After official charges were filed in September concerning the May boat crash, DeSelms was booked into jail in Delaware County and bonded out the next morning. Each manslaughter charge is punishable by imprisonment for four years to life, a fine or up to $10,000 or both.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol released an investigation report about a week after the May 14 deadly boat crash. The report states John DeSelms was arrested on suspicion of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs and alcohol after the 22-foot-long ski boat he was driving smashed into a docked, unoccupied houseboat at a marina on Grand Lake in Oklahoma.

While being treated at a nearby hospital, DeSelms told investigators he had consumed about 10 beers, one shot of tequila and an anti-depressant that was not prescribed to him before the crash. He also admitted to using marijuana two days earlier, according to the investigation report.

After being released from the hospital, DeSelms was not booked into jail but instead was released on his medical recognizance, prosecutors said.

The two UA students died from blunt force trauma at the scene of the wreck, according to findings released by the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office.

An examiner’s report states William “Trey” Varner III died of accidental blunt force trauma to the head, while Rachel Swetnam was killed by accidental blunt force trauma to the head and neck.

Meanwhile, a memorial service for the two students who were killed was carried out the week after the wreck in the Union Verizon Ballroom on the UA campus.

Investigators said at the time of the crash that they believed alcohol may have been a contributing factor in the wreck.

Varner, of Texarkana, Ark., and Swetnam, of Grove, Okla., were killed when a 22-foot Cobalt ski boat carrying eight people collided with a large empty houseboat docked in a marina at Arrowhead Yacht Club in the Duck Creek arm of Grand Lake near Grove, Okla.

Others in the boat included Taylor Perry, of Springdale, Eugene DeVerges, Bryce Banham, both of Tulsa, Taylor Reynolds of Plano, Tx., and Chad Scott of Perry, Okla.

Deselms and Perry were transported to Craig General Hospital for treatment and later released. Some of those in the boat were students at the University of Arkansas, according to the university.

Swetnam, a Tri Delta sorority member, was set to graduate in apparel studies from the UA next year.

“Rachel is someone that we`re really going to miss. She`s actually the first person I threw up the Delta with, a really sweet girl. We`re really going to miss her,” said Cassie Murphy, Tri Delta member.

“She was actually going to live in LA this summer and intern up there because she`s a fashion design major,” said Sara, Tri Delta member.

Varner was studying marketing and a fraternity member at Kappa Sigma.

“He could definitely light up a room, just by being with them.  Rachel and him were really good friends,” said Murphy.

Emergency 911 calls released Wednesday by authorities provided new details on the tragedy.

The calls came in from other boaters who witnessed the crash.

Below are excerpts from the 911 calls:

Caller: “There are eight people. Gosh, there’s blood everywhere. People are sitting on the dock. Two of them are lying on the dock, blood everywhere. Two on the dock are alive.”

2nd Caller: “We got a marjor accident at Arrowhead. Major, major wreck, okay?”
911: “Okay, injuries?”
Caller: “Yeah, big time.”

3rd Caller: “People are hurt, possibly two fatalities. A boat ran into, its inside the other boat, the whole boat is inside the other boat.”

4th Caller: “A boat just an into the dock 40-50 miles per hour. There were about six people in it.”

“We continued processing the scene and were able to remove the Cobalt vessel from the scene,” said Police Chief Bryan Edwards of the Grand River Dam Authority.

Click here to hear the 911 call.

Click here to see the memorial ceremony set up for the two students killed.

Click here for more stories about the crash.

John Stuart DeSelms

John Stuart DeSelms