A towboat captain was convicted this week on federal charges of negligent manslaughter for his role in a fatal 2005 explosion that killed a crewmember and spilled 600,000 gals. of slurry oil in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship canal.
Dennis M. Egan was piloting a towboat pushing a petroleum barge on its way to the Ameropan Oil facility in Chicago from the ExxonMobil plant when there was a massive explosion. In the trial, the prosecutors contended that immediately prior to the explosion, Egan ordered his deckhand to use a small propane torch to heat a frozen discharge pump.
Judge James Zagel found that that act was the cause of the deckhand's wrongful death, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Sentencing is tentatively set for Sept. 24. Egan and his uncle's company, Egan Marine, were each convicted on one count of negligent manslaughter of a seaman and one count of oil pollution of a navigable waterway. For negligent manslaughter, Egan faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. For oil pollution, he faces a maximum penalty of a year in prison and a $100,000 fine, according to eNews Park Forest.
And in May, another towboat captain was found not guilty of criminally negligent homicide for the 2010 accident in which the 671' barge tow he was piloting on the Tennessee River crashed into a fishing boat, killing two of the three men aboard.
In the trial it was revealed that the two fishermen who were killed had blood alcohol levels more than twice the legal limit, according to the Times Free Press.
The surviving fisherman said he and his colleagues did not see the approaching barge until it was only 100 yards away and then they couldn't get their motor started to get out of the way. "I was yelling and screaming," he testified at trial according to the Chatanoogan. "I didn't see nobody anywhere on it. It looked like a ghost ship, you couldn't see nobody."
The state argued that Capt. Warren Luektke had a duty to maintain a proper lookout, even though there is no rule that requires a towboat pilot to post one at all times, according to WRCB.
To me it seems like justice was served in both of these instances. One captain asked or allowed his deckhand to engage in extremely risky behavior and therefore I think he should be held accountable for the tragic outcome. The other captain was not breaking regulations by acting as his own lookout and not posting a crew member at the front of the barge. I think he should not be criminally responsible for an accident with a vessel in middle of the navigable channel that neglected to even see a towboat approach.
What do you think? Was justice served? Even if you think these verdicts were just, do you think these kinds of workplace fatalities are best addressed in criminal court?