Lawsuit questioned whether security video was deleted to protect Rand Hooper after deadly boat crash

Posted at 9:52 AM, Feb 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-01 18:46:05-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Two weeks after a jury found Richmond man Rand Hooper guilty of causing a 2017 boat crash that killed his friend Graham McCormick, some questions remain about exactly what happened in the minutes and hours after the crash.

The CBS 6 Problem Solvers have obtained court documents in which investigators and the McCormick family reference the possibility that surveillance video related to the crash was deleted.

In a civil lawsuit filed in Richmond Circuit Court in November 2017, suspicion was raised by the McCormick family that Hooper's parents attempted to erase surveillance video that might incriminate their adult son.

"They're making the allegation in the civil suit that there was a cover-up," CBS 6 legal analyst Todd Stone said.

In separate court filings made by Lancaster County investigators around that same time, detectives referenced security cameras all around the Hooper family's river house in Irvington where Hooper and McCormick drank and played cards before the deadly crash.

Graham McCormick and Rand Hooper
Graham McCormick and Rand Hooper

Hooper said he called out for his friend after he crashed into a bulkhead throwing McCormick, overboard. But, he said, he figured since McCormick was a good swimmer, he could make it to shore and instead of looking for his friend, he piloted the boat back home. He later claimed he did not remember exactly what happened until 25 days after the crash.

Hooper maintained that he does not remember who was driving his parents' boat when the crash occurred.

But, investigators and prosecutors have long believed Hooper was piloting the boat and a jury in Norfolk agreed, convicting Hooper of involuntary manslaughter and failure to stop at the scene and render aid.

According to a 2017 search warrant obtained by the CBS 6 Problem Solvers, Lancaster detectives stated that it appeared some of the security data from an ADT camera at the river house was possibly deleted shortly after the crash. The warrant also stated that Gary Hooper told detectives that he could watch live feeds from the cameras on his phone.

Rand Hoopers' parents were vacationing in South Africa at the time of the crash.

But the Hooper parents were never charged with any crime, and no evidence was ever submitted establishing that the parents tampered with security footage.

In fact, Rand Hooper's defense attorney Craig Cooley said this was a "totally false allegation."

He said the devices in question simply showed images of someone walking by that you could only see in real-time.

Cooley said these are not cameras to the extent that they record anything.

He said the allegation created a "very unfair perception of the Hoopers, who were completely cooperative with law enforcement."

"In a criminal case, the burden is a lot higher," Stone said. "They would have to be able to select the mother, the father, siblings, and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that person deleted the video, not just that the video is missing, but that this specific person deleted the video and prove that beyond a reasonable doubt. That's a really hard thing to do."

On top of that, Stone said the obstruction of justice statute in the Virginia code that deals directly with the destruction of the property actually spares parents from prosecution.

"The primary statute for that seems to exempt close family members so that is one hurdle. The other hurdle is proving who deleted the video, and that is a tough one too," Stone said.

As for Rand Hooper, Cooley said he plans to appeal the convictions.

"It will go to the Virginia Court of Appeals first, and they will consider it. If it is denied there it can be appealed again to the Virginia Supreme Court, so that is a long process. It could take a year or two," Stone said.

But, Stone said Judge Charles Poston appeared to take a cautious approach to the trial making it hard for the Court of Appeals to find mistakes in the lower court's handling of this case.

"There was one particular issue where the judge kept out the prior convictions of the defendant.  That tells me the judge is playing it very cautiously in trying to keep the case from having appealable issues because that was a cautious decision to make," Stone said.

The civil suit was settled back in April 2018 for $4 million.

As part of the settlement, McCormick's family released Hooper and his parents from any further civil liability related to his death.

Hooper's sentencing hearing is set for May 2.