STUART – A Palm City man accused of causing a 2019 boat crash that killed his wife and a 20-month-old girl on Tuesday was ordered to prison for four years followed by six years of probation.
But before he learned his punishment, Kyle Bspanrrett, 34, listened as Leanne Matakaetis in court described her deceased daughter Hudson as “a true blessing” with a spirit that “shined on anyone she was in contact with.”
Her husband Michael Matakaetis and about a dozen family members looked on as she spoke while a prosecutor held up a large, framed photo of Hudson to show Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer.
“I have written multiple letters to you. However, I have been unable to send them; I feel as though I live in denial,” Leanne Matakaetis, 39, told Bauer. “If I were to move out of this stage of grief, I could not go on.”
The PTSD she still experiences “is unbearable,” she said standing at a podium, with Barrett, wearing a dark suit, seated a few feet behind her.
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During his sentencing hearing Tuesday, Bauer convicted Barrett of two counts of vessel homicide related to the Oct. 27, 2019 boat crash in the Intracoastal Waterway near Sandsprit Park that also killed his wife, Paige Barrett, 28, of Palm City.
The Matakaetises, who were also aboard the boat, are known for owning several local restaurants, including the Stuart Boathouse and Hudson’s on the River, a Stuart eatery named in their daughter’s memory.
Barrett, who had remained free on a $152,000 bond, faced a maximum prison term of 30 years for both felony convictions, court records show.
As part of a plea deal reached in September, state prosecutors dropped two counts of BUI manslaughter Barrett had also faced since his arrest following the boat crash caused when the 26-foot center console boat he was operating collided into a 10-foot tall, unlit wooden channel marker southeast of Sewall’s Point, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
It was the Sunday before Halloween about 8:15 p.m.
A total of eight people, including four adults and four children, were aboard as the vessel crashed into channel marker 238, ejecting five, the FWC reported.
The general spot where the crash happened is known to local boaters as “the cut.”
Leanne Matakaetis put the blame squarely on Barrett, insisting to Bauer “this whole nightmare could have been prevented.”
“I told him to slow down, and I yelled that it was dark and to watch where we were going,” she said. “We never should have made the cut in the dark at that speed. Kyle made these decisions thinking he had it. His choice, his mistake, our loss.”
Later, Assistant State Attorney Richard Bodek argued Barrett should serve 14 years in prison followed by 4 ½ years of probation.
He said the consequences of Barrett’s actions that night were “foreseeable.”
“The pain that everyone feels in this courtroom is only because of the decisions of the defendant that night,” Bodek said.
He further argued it was Barrett’s choice to operate the boat in the dark and take a short cut, despite issues with the boat’s GPS system, while going “at a speed and in a situation where all the factors are working against him and he crashes into the piling.”
“And we have two people dead,” Bodek said. “He could have been careful, he could have slowed down, he could have taken the long way, but he didn’t.”
When Barrett addressed Bauer, he briefly faced the Matakaetis family.
“I’m here to share that I have a repented heart about this tragic accident. Anyone who knows me knows that my only intention that night was to get our families home safely,” he said. “My life has been dedicated to transporting people safely and on this night, my lifelong boating experience failed me, and a tragic accident occurred.”
Barrett said he was sorry and remorseful.
“I have the deepest regret for the mistaken judgment I made in those moments and accept the responsibility that lays on my shoulders,” he said, as some in the audience sobbed quietly.
His lawyer, Robert Watson, insisted Barrett never intended to harm anyone that night and the people aboard the boat were family and friends “he would have most wanted to protect.”
“There’s nobody that he would have wanted to protect more,” Watson said.
He urged Bauer to sentence Barrett to one year of community control and four years of probation.
Maritime rules were violated that night, Watson acknowledge, but he said there were also other factors that contributed to the crash.
“It’s a perfect storm of things gone wrong,” he said.
Watson called that night a “fluid situation” as it got dark and they approached an unlit channel marker.
“It’s a situation that he’s reacting to, as he’s going through,” Watson said. “Should he have been going slower? He knows he should have been going slower.”
Florida Department of Law Enforcement officials determined that about 2½ hours after the crash, Kyle Barrett’s blood alcohol content was 0.095 – greater than the 0.08 legal limit.
However, defense attorney Robert Watson later disputed those results and the handling of Barrett’s blood evidence, which resulted in new testing in June that found only one of three blood samples taken showed alcohol present, with a BAC of between 0.083 and 0.085, court records show.
Water outing with family
That day, the Barrett and Matakaetis families had boated to two restaurants where beer and other alcoholic beverages were purchased, according to FWC reports.
After attending a Halloween brunch at the Matakaetis home in the Sailfish Point community, Kyle Barrett and the others left about 4:35 p.m. on the boat from Sailfish Point Marina. They had brunch and spent time in the pool before deciding to go on a boat ride.
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They headed to the TideHouse Waterfront Restaurant near the Roosevelt Bridge for dinner, but it was too busy to get a table, so they ordered drinks near the bar.
They walked out about 5:33 p.m.
They left and boated to Sailor’s Return, and were seated about 6:30 p.m. The Barrett and Matakaetis families got food, two mojitos and two vodka drinks. They left Sailor’s Return about 7:40 p.m.
They traveled east on the St. Lucie River under the Roosevelt Bridge and under the Evans Crary Bridge, which links Stuart and Sewall’s Point. Kyle Barrett said he took a “shortcut” toward the Intracoastal Waterway.
Kyle Barrett said, “the marker just jumped out in front of them.”
An FWC report concluded factors that contributed to the crash included alcohol use, excessive speed and violation of navigational rules.
Bauer on Tuesday told Barrett “the problem is obviously that you had responsibilities and you failed.”
“Your reckless behavior … caused the death of these two people,” Bauer told Barrett. “The state’s not wrong: The conditions, it was dark, it was hazy, it was shallow water, it was a narrow path.”
He acknowledged the marker was unlit but found Barrett should have known and expected that.
“Your responsibility was for your passengers on your vessel that day and you made choices and a lack of a focus to properly keep them safe,” Bauer said.
For both vessel homicide counts, he ordered Barrett to serve four years in prison followed by six years of probation with both terms to run at the same time.
“There’s no good outcome,” Bauer said. “There’s no winners.”