Will anyone ever know what happened to the Aloha, a sport fishing boat that vanished with all onboard in the Pacific Ocean, off San Francisco’s coast? ‘Knowing’ is a complex, inexact business. There’s real truth and then there’s courtroom truth; a jury’s verdict may or may not approach what actually happened. Nor can someone reading about such an event—one that had no witnesses or hard evidence to explain it—be sure where the truth lies. But trials, judges, and juries are what we have in our legal system to find the truth.
The book The Widow Wave explores this alternate reality. It is a true-life mystery and courtroom drama rolled into one. Jay Jacobs offers no facile answers—and he’s not the flawless protagonist typically portrayed in such dramas. He lets us see how a big wrongful death case really unfolds, in a true story that reads like a novel. Will the jury find the truth? Will the reader?
The story centers on the passion-driven trial –pitting widow against widow –that resulted from the worst recreational fishing boat accident ever to happen in San Francisco’s long maritime history.
Francis Dowd, his son, and three other men left San Francisco Bay on Dowd’s 34-foot boat the Aloha for a day of salmon fishing out on the Pacific Ocean. The boat vanished under mysterious circumstances. There were no survivors or witnesses to whatever happened. Much speculation ensued in the San Francisco newspapers and the evening broadcast news about what may have occurred. Was the boat sunk by a rogue wave? Or run down by one of the large ships in the area? If weather was the explanation, why didn’t any of the fifteen other boats out that day go down? Or was it just the simple carelessness of a boat owner and operator for whom such fishing trips had become all too routine?
Ultimately, the widow of one of the passengers onboard filed a lawsuit against Francis Dowd’s widow. Jay Jacobs, a relatively inexperienced lawyer at the time, was tasked with defending her. She maintained that her husband was not a negligent or careless man. On this slim statement, Jacobs built his case. His opponent was a highly experienced lawyer, a Goliath known for always prevailing.
Under the special circumstances of no physical evidence and no eyewitnesses, the three-week jury trial hinged on the testimony of both sides’ expert witnesses who intertwined the physics of rogue wave formation, navigation, and meteorology with the all-too human story of the fragility of life The old legal bromide, “You never try the case you prepare,” seemed to be written for this trial.
The three weeks in court was an extreme emotional burden for Jacobs’ client. If it had been only her husband who died, in time she would probably have come to accept that; after all, he was a grown man doing something he loved. But her son was also onboard. If the jury found her husband was responsible for the loss of her son, it would have been the death of her soul.
Compounding this pressure was the fact that she was being sued for sums that could have wiped her out financially. Yet the two factors prompting most people into settling—the fear of going to court and the possibility of financial devastation—had no effect on her. She regarded the allegations of negligence as a dark cloud over her husband’s good name, and she wanted that cloud removed. For her, honor was more important than money.
By Jay Jacobs, a CU alum. He has been a member of the California bar for 35 years, specializing in maritime law. Prior to law school, he was a sailor and then an officer in the merchant marine. He sailed on cargo ships, ore-carriers and tankers on voyages to Europe, Africa, India, the Far East, South America, the Persian Gulf and Japan. His experiences at sea provided him with unique qualifications to try this case, and were a great help in unexpected ways in the trial, as the book reveals in its unfolding true-life drama.
The Widow Wave is published by Quid Pro Books, and available everywhere including Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Please visit the Author’s web site for more information www.jaywjacobs.com.