The operator of a boat involved in a tragic accident last summer has plead guilty to two counts of second-degree vehicular manslaughter; a tragic reminder that driving a boat drunk can be just as dangerous as driving a car.
The accident happened on the Hudson River last July, about 25 miles north of Manhattan. The group of friends included a couple about to be wed and their best man. The operator, also a friend, took the group out on a speedboat after the group had been drinking. They were headed to a bar-restaurant across the river.
The boat, a 19-foot Stingray, crashed into a barge around 10:30 p.m. There were three construction barges strapped together, near the Tappan Zee Bridge – and many have argued that the barge owners carry some blame for not lighting them sufficiently
The driver and four others were injured. The bride-to-be and the best man were thrown from the boat and later found dead. Authorities confirmed the woman did not have on a life jacket when she was found; only two of the six on the boat were wearing life jackets.
Prosecutors said that the driver’s blood alcohol level was 0.15, almost twice the legal limit of .08; also, “cocaine metabolites” were found in his blood. The Rockland County District Attorney released a statement saying, “The defendant’s reckless decision to drive a speedboat while under the influence of alcohol and drugs tragically caused the untimely deaths of two innocent people.
The 36 year-old driver was sentenced to two years in jail; he could be released after 16 months with time off for good behavior.
During the proceedings he apologized to the families. His lead lawyer said that he was “truly remorseful for his actions.” And, while his client took responsibility for his actions, they claimed the barge lighting was an issue.
The families of the deceased have filed suit against the barge operators who they said shared the blame. Safety has been an issue on the Hudson near the Tappan Zee Bridge. The families criticized the District Attorney’s Office and suggested the DA had protected the barge owner.
The DA focused the case on the driver’s reckless conduct. They also noted that the driver had a substance-abuse problem. Just before the crash, he had spent 18 months in rehab. He was also on probation for cocaine possession; part of his jail time is for probation violation. Agreeing to the plea deal saves him from having to be housed in the state prison.
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