Tug boat operator causes fatal river crash, takes responsibility

Thirty-seven people boarded a duck tour boat in Philadelphia on July 7, 2010. None of passengers expected that they would be victims of a fatal accident that would claim the lives of two young Hungarian tourists. An unfortunate chain of events began that morning when the operator of a tug boat on the Delaware River received a phone call from his wife. The operator’s son had a near fatal reaction during a routine surgery that morning.

Rather than ensuring the safety of the other passengers on his barge as well as others traveling on the river, the distressed operator diverted his attention to a series of cell phone calls and performed research on his laptop regarding his son’s condition. Amid that distraction, he admits that he turned off the radio on the barge so that he could focus more clearly on his personal tragedy. At one point he even left his post in search of a quiet location below the deck to talk on his phone.

While the operator was distracted, the duck tour had become stranded with mechanical problems nearby on the river. The operator of the duck boat saw the barge headed in its direction, and calls were placed over the radio to warn the barge. The operator’s distractions and his turning of the radio meant that he didn’t get the message. The passengers of the boat looked on helplessly as the barge crashed into them, sending them flying into the river.

The families of the two deceased passengers have filed wrongful death claims against the barge operator. Despite the personal issues that he was dealing with at the time, he had a duty to maintain his barge in a safe manner. He should have sought out another crew mate to take over while he talked on the phone. Instead, the defendant, who recently pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the criminal case that resulted from the crash, is facing 37 to 46 months in prison. His sentencing hearing is set to take place in November.

His criminal case doesn’t reflect the outcome of the civil wrongful death lawsuit that the victims’ families are pursuing. When there are updates in either of the cases, we will be sure to keep you informed.


Associated Press: “Tug pilot pleads guilty in US duck boat crash,” Kathy Matheson, Aug. 1, 2011

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