PA tugboat navigator to plead guilty in deadly duck boat crash

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 14, 2011 2:58 PM
PA tugboat navigator to plead guilty in deadly duck boat crash

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - The tugboat navigator accused of being distracted by cell phone use has agreed to plead guilty to federal charges in the deadly 2010 crash with a Ride the Ducks tour boat that killed two Hungarian tourists, a prosecutor said on Thursday.

Matthew R. Devlin, 35, of Catskill, N.Y., was charged with one count of misconduct of a ship operator, causing death, according to U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger.

Devlin was accused of failing to keep a proper lookout because he was in the boat's lower wheelhouse and was repeatedly using his cell phone and laptop for personal business while being solely responsible for navigating the vessel.

The Caribbean Sea tugboat was pushing a barge, which rammed into an amphibious sightseeing craft known as a duck boat on July 7, 2010. Killed were Hungarian tourists Dora Schwendtner, 16, and Szabolcs Prem, 20.

Piloting the boat from the lower wheelhouse, Devlin "had significantly reduced visibility in comparison to the perspective from the upper wheelhouse of the Caribbean Sea," Memeger said in a statement.

He defied orders of the ship's captain, who had directed him to pilot the vessel from the upper wheelhouse, the prosecutor said.

Devlin "did not maintain proper lookout or comply with other rules of seamanship," Memeger said.

As part of the agreement to plead guilty to the charge, Devlin also agreed to permanent revocation of his Coast Guard license as a mate, the prosecutor said.

Devlin will likely face a sentence of 37 to 46 months under sentencing guidelines, which are suggested but not mandated.

Both the tour boat company and the tug company are being sued by the families of the victims.

(Reporting by Dave Warner; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Peter Bohan)