With the mother of one of the men he is accused of killing watching intently from the front row, Damion Bruno made his initial appearance in Elmore County Circuit Court on Tuesday and the judge refused to lower his $750,000 bond.
Bruno, 41, of Clanton was arrested Monday and booked into the Elmore County Jail on two charges of reckless murder in a boat crash on Lake Jordan the night of July 4.
Clay Jackson, 26, of Deatsville and Travis House, 17, of Marbury died in the crash and two others were seriously injured.
Jackson’s mother Leslie Fuller watched the proceeding with a box of tissues perched on her lap and joined by friends on either side but she declined to comment after being in the same room with Bruno for the first time.
“Today was the first time the family has actually seen the person who murdered their family member,” Elmore County senior assistant district attorney Mandy Johnson said. “They’re pleased the bond remained the same.”
Bruno, who was brought into the courtroom wearing a gray-and-white jail uniform with his glasses tucked under the collar, largely remained silent except for brief answers to confirm his age and address, to say he owns a business at his home and to ask for paperwork to have a court-appointed attorney.
Bruno averted looking at Fuller, staring straight ahead at District Judge Glenn Goggans.
“These cases are hard to prosecute,” 19th Judicial Circuit chief assistant district attorney C.J. Robinson said. “The lake should be a place for fun. It shouldn’t be the place where you go to die.”
Bruno was also charged with first-degree assault for injuries suffered by Caleb Peters, second-degree assault for injuries incurred by Randy Young and for driving under the influence. Each reckless murder charge carries a $250,000 bond, each assault count carries a $100,000 bond and the DUI charge a $50,000 bond.
Goggans followed the recommendation of prosecutors and did not lower the bond, partly because of the seriousness of the case and partly because Bruno has strong ties to Wisconsin, Johnson said.
“Two people lost their lives,” Johnson told Goggans in arguing against any bond reduction.
“You are presumed innocent,” Goggans told Bruno before he read the charges brought by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. Goggans also made sure Bruno understood his right to an attorney, his right to remain silent, the bond amounts and length of sentence on each charge.
Goggans told Bruno if he makes bond, he cannot leave the state without the court’s permission.
Johnson said Bruno was arrested at his home in Clanton on Monday.
Jackson, House and Young were passengers on a 19-foot Sea Hunt center console driven by Peters when a collision occurred with a 19-foot Maxum runabout driven by Bruno between the mouth of Weoka Creek and Sears Slough, near Lake Jordan Marina, according to Capt. Gary Buchanan, the commander of the ALEA’s Marine Patrol. Peters’ boat was returning from a fireworks show on Lake Jordan when the collision occurred between 9:30 and 10 p.m. July 4, Buchanan said.
The bodies of Jackson and House were recovered from the lake about 48 hours after the collision.
“After the fireworks show, Mr. Bruno was operating his vessel under the influence of alcohol in a reckless manner and at a rate of speed that was extremely dangerous for anyone he came in contact with,” Robinson said. “His boat collided with the other vessel and caused the deaths of two men and injured two more.”
If convicted, Bruno could face 10 to 99 years in prison on each count of reckless murder. First-degree assault is a Class B felony punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison and second-degree assault is a Class C felony punishable by a year and a day to 10 years in prison.
House’s parents, Wahoo and Susan House, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Bruno last week in Elmore County Circuit Court.
Beasley Allen lawyer Ben Locklar filed the lawsuit which said Bruno has “had a long history of substance abuse and was not competent or qualified to safely operate a boat on the waters of the state of Alabama.”
Johnson said Bruno has not asked for a preliminary hearing. If the case is referred to an Elmore County grand jury for an indictment, its next meeting is October.
“There is a loss of life here,” Johnson said. “That’s the most important thing to remember. It’s tragic for the families and tragic for Elmore County. There are two grieving families who are absolutely devastated and two others who were badly injured.”