VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — A judge sentenced a navigating officer to four years in prison Monday for the deadly crash of passenger ferry off Canada's Pacific coast, saying the officer was distracted on the bridge by his former lover.
The Queen of the North was carrying 101 passengers down British Columbia's Inside Passage when it missed a scheduled turn, struck Gil Island and sank shortly after midnight on March 22, 2006. Two passengers, Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette, disappeared and are presumed dead.
Karl Lilgert, 59, was convicted last month of criminal negligence causing death.
As she sentenced him Monday, Judge Sunni Stromberg-Stein said Lilgert's relationship with quartermaster Karen Briker, the only other crew member on the bridge at the time, was a significant factor. It was their first time working alone together since their relationship ended weeks earlier, and the details of the affair were laid bare during the trial.
"Clearly, he was distracted by personal issues related to Ms. Briker," the judge said. "I do not need to speculate on what Mr. Lilgert was doing on the bridge that night. I know what he was not doing. He was not doing his job.
During Lilgert's cross-examination, the prosecutor suggested Lilgert was distracted because he was having sex with Briker or arguing with her. Lilgert has denied that allegation. Both Lilgert and Briker have insisted the breakup played no part in what happened.
Defense lawyer Nancy Adams said Lilgert was vilified publicly despite no evidence of sexual impropriety.
Lilgert told the jury he was busy navigating the ship and ordering course changes as he was challenged with rough weather and unreliable equipment. He said he had ordered at least two turns and was keeping an eye on the radar to ensure the ferry was a safe distance from Gil Island when, for reasons he couldn't explain, he spotted the island outside the ship's windows.
But Stromberg-Stein said the jury did not believe Lilgert's claims.
"Being overwhelmed by personal matters, he failed to navigate the vessel," she said, adding that he let the ship "hurtle blindly through the night at full cruising speed."
Data recovered from the ship's navigation system indicated the ferry made no turns and took no evasive action as it approached Gil Island, which one expert witness described as a "catastrophic dereliction of duty."
Lilgert delivered a tearful apology at his sentencing hearing on Friday, saying he will carry "deep regret and sorrow" for the rest of his life.
His lawyers described a "fragile man" who has suffered post-traumatic stress and has lost his marriage, his house and his livelihood since the sinking.
Two investigations by the Transportation Safety Board and BC Ferries blamed human error for the sinking.
The safety board's report, released in 2008, concluded that a "conversation of a personal nature" was among the factors that distracted Lilgert from his duties. It also raised concerns about marijuana use on the ship.