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Old 05-19-2014, 06:17 PM   #1
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Tow Boat Capt found innocent

Monday, May 19, 2014 75.0F scattered clouds Scattered Clouds
Breaking News

Jury Finds Barge Pilot Warren Luetke Not Guilty Of Criminally-Negligent Homicide
Monday, May 19, 2014 - by Hollie Webb

A jury found barge pilot Warren Luetke not guilty of criminally-negligent homicide after a week-long trial. The verdict was announced Monday morning after just about an hour of deliberation in the courtroom of Judge Barry Steelman.

In his closing statement, defense attorney Sam Hudson told the jury, "Ladies and gentlemen, accidents happen. Every accident should not result in criminal prosecution."

He said, "The only evidence that has been introduced is that the boaters on the river weren't paying attention.

"
Captain Luetke was charged with two counts of criminally negligent homicide, reckless operation of a boat, and failure to render aid after the deaths of two men in a fishing boat struck by the barge he was piloting at the time. He was found innocent of all charges.

Attorney Hudson mentioned that one witness had equated the situation to "somebody getting hit by a walking horse while walking in the middle of a field."

Both deceased men, Richard Wilkey and Timothy Spidle, were found to have BACs of around .2, over twice the legal limit to operate a vehicle.

Attorney Hudson said, "I submit to you their intoxication may have been the reason that they drowned." He pointed out that while it was clear the barge struck the boat, there was no evidence such as bodily injuries to indicate the barge actually struck the men.

In his testimony, Captain Luetke said the only possible explanation he could think of was that the boat could have been in the blind spot of the barge before he took control after the shift change.

Attorney Hudson said, "That's a possibility, ladies and gentlemen, and that's reasonable doubt."

He also pointed out that Captain Will Stevens, the pilot of the Bearcat before the defendant took the wheel, testified that almost any other tugboat pilot would have done the same things.

However, prosecutor Cameron Williams said, "It is not a defense that the negligent conduct of the deceased may also be a cause of the death."

He said, "I was brought up that you take responsibility for your actions. There are some people that are not brought up that way, and they'll say or do anything to avoid that responsibility."

Prosecutor Williams said, "It's not a defense that they were intoxicated to the defendant's own criminal negligence...They have paid for those actions. They have paid the ultimate price. They paid for them with their lives."

He said that Chris Wilkey having a "junky boat" and "not maintaining a proper lookout" does not absolve the defendant for his own negligence.

He said, "The defense says there's not a single shred of evidence he was not paying attention. That's not true; he struck the boat. If he would have been paying attention, he would have seen that boat and he would have avoided it."
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Old 05-19-2014, 07:53 PM   #2
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My son, who's job is driving a 120' tug pushing a 400' + barge, just now sent me the following anguished iMessage. If my son had hit that boat, who knows what legal consequences to him and his company might have ensued, not to mention jeopardy to his license and livelihood.

"Just got outta the canal [Cape Cod Canal]

I almost killed somebody in a 30' powerboat :-/

Some people have no business on the water.

F***ing dumbass had no clue.

150' from the bow they took a 90 degree dive across my bow. I had enough time to pull the engines out of gear and sound the danger signal....never would've been able to stop."
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Old 05-19-2014, 08:21 PM   #3
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David, unfortunately, you are right. This trial took place at the Court House about 3 blocks down the street from me. Preparations for the trial have been going on for over a year.

A good friend of mine had a son who is a lawyer by the way that ran over a jetski that cut right in front while circling his boat. He was charged with the accident. Fortunately, they had video of the kids circling, and his blowing his horn. He was found innocent, but was so sickened by it he sold his boat. As you know there are really no winners in court.

By the way, good ol' boys out night fishing in the channel with a blood alcohol level at twice the legal limit, and they charged the captain of the tow. Give us a break! The system is broken.
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Old 05-19-2014, 08:24 PM   #4
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Even on your son's small tow, 150' was probably in his blind spot. I agree with his statement (message). While the above Capt. was found innocent (no negligence) he will probably feel the anguish the rest of his life. My prayers are with him.
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Old 05-19-2014, 08:33 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Moonstruck View Post



By the way, good ol' boys out night fishing in the channel with a blood alcohol level at twice the legal limit, and they charged the captain of the tow. Give us a break! The system is broken.

That's what cheeses me off about this more than anything. How anybody, including a grief stricken widow, could possibly think this was the tug pilots fault is beyond me.
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Old 05-20-2014, 01:30 AM   #6
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As a CGAUX safety inspector my first question where the deceased wearing PFDs?While the accident may or may not have been avoidable for various reasons the drowning probably 100% avoidable with PFD use. The combination of alcohol and no PFD is a deadly cocktail.
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Old 05-20-2014, 06:16 AM   #7
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That's what cheeses me off about this more than anything. How anybody, including a grief stricken widow, could possibly think this was the tug pilots fault is beyond me.

IF it was the tugs fault a civil suit would have followed demanding Big Bucks for the dead drunks widow.
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Old 05-28-2014, 07:00 PM   #8
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I unfortunately I have seen boaters cutting in front of tows, anchoring in the channel, and like these three working a trot line strung out across the navigational channel. I read they where intoxicated both on alcohol and weed.
Comes under the heading"when you play with the bull you get the horn !" Plus reports that the remains of the boat was inspected and determined it was not sea worthy and the outboard motor unreliable and should have never been on the waterway.
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Old 05-28-2014, 07:56 PM   #9
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Not being familiar with the US justice system can anyone tell me is there a coronial enquiry in situations like this.

Does the coroner hands down findings as to the cause of death and makes recommendations as to whether the matter is then to be handed over to the Department of public prosecutions, or the American equivalent?
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Old 05-28-2014, 08:24 PM   #10
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The coroner will present his findings to the Grand Jury or the States Attorney General whichever is the case. The Grand Jury can then issue a True Bill which is an indictment, or the AG can determine to prosecute the case.

Political pressure should not, but can play a roll in determining prosecutions. AG's are usually elected, and therefore can bend to the will of the people. It is up to a judge and jury to sort it all out.

We had a recent case here where two young people were drinking late at night, and laid across a mainline railroad track. When they were run over by a train the mother sued for 25 mil, and lost. It was a little more complicated than that, but a sad case. I knew the plaintiff. one of the lawyers, and one of the defendants. Truly a bizzar case that was a spectacle and a tragedy.
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Old 05-30-2014, 01:59 PM   #11
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Two years ago I had a very close call on the Tickfaw River. A boat full of family towing a kid on a float passes me and then cuts right in front of the boat. Kid falls off the float about 50 yards in front but I'm paying attention to a large cruiser rounding the bend in the river we're approaching and throwing a huge wake, don't see the kid in the water. Luckily, one of my buds was standing behind me and, after a couple warnings, grabs the wheel and steers away from the kid. We passed him on the starboard side in the water, about 4 feet away. His eyes were about as big as a silver dollar, mine were too. Way too close, could have been a tragedy, learned my lesson big time and still shiver when I think about it. Main lesson: pay attention 360 degrees. Lesson 2: Stay off the river on Saturdays during the summer.
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Old 06-02-2014, 02:01 PM   #12
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There are two types: An ignorant person and a stupid person.

You can train/teach an ignorant person, you can't fix stupid!
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Old 06-04-2014, 09:22 AM   #13
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Could be a case of piling on after the infamous "Duck Boat tragedy" in Philadelphia....where the tow capt very well may have been negligent by his own admissions.

I'm guessing there are many more incidents between tows and rec boaters that never get this far...to me sounds like a zealous prosecutor. Once they take the case...what they say to the press doesn't have to make too much sense as it will be published and probably out of context with the paper's/radio station's agenda.

I remember reading about an incident between a tow and a bassboat anchored mid channel in front of a bridge If I recall the story all correctly. The towboat was dead slow and downbound (bad situation already), put a watch on the bow of the barge, signaled radio and horn and the guy wouldn't move (drunk AND stupid). The tow missed but the drunks got angry and started calling the tow out on the radio. After a civil exchange buy the tow capt, he said he was sorry and moved on.

The USCG pressed the issue, said by passing the guy too close and admitting guilt by saying he was sorry (like we never do to help calm a drunk)...wound up fining the tow capt and suspending his license for awhile. Again I may not have the story 100% (but close) and the USCG's actions astounded me, the mag and anyone else that I spoke to it about.

The USCG stated that pro capts should boat to a higher standard....yep....rec guys can live way below the standard and yet simple mistakes by the pro capts can be blown out of proportion by an uneducated, inexperienced population and legal system.

Hopefully in this case it went the right way...and if it did it stinks cause the pro capt endured something he never should have and now will haunt him the rest of his life...and I mean the legal battle not necessarily the death of the boaters.
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Old 06-06-2014, 10:27 AM   #14
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Two things i have quickly learned boating around large commercial traffic. 1) stay out of the shipping channel 2) if you do go in the channel stay out of the way of the workin' man.
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