Criminal Charges in Staten Island Ferry Crash

Monday, August 16, 2004
The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York issued a release discussing the criminal charges arising out of the October 15, 2003 crash of the Staten Island ferry Andrew J. Barberi into the ferry terminal at St. George, an accident which killed 11 and injured dozens.

The ferry pilot pled guilty to manslaughter. The director of ferry operations has been charged with manslaughter, obstruction of justice, and making a false statement. A port captain has been charged with obstruction of justice and making a false statement. The ferry captain and a doctor have been charged with making false statements. Below are excerpts from the release.

ROSLYNN R. MAUSKOPF, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, GLENN WILTSHIRE, Captain of the Port of New York, United States Coast Guard, and RAYMOND W. KELLY, Commissioner, New York City Police Department, announced the filing of charges against RICHARD J. SMITH, PATRICK RYAN, JOHNMAULDIN, MICHAEL GANSAS and WILLIAM TURSI stemming from the October 15, 2003crash of the Staten Island Ferry Andrew J. Barberi into a concrete maintenance pier southeast of the ferry terminal at St. George, Staten Island, killing 11 passengers and injuring dozens of others, and the government's ensuing investigation. SMITH, the ferry pilot at the time of the crash, was charged in an information with 11 counts of seaman's manslaughter and false statements, and he pleaded guilty to those charges earlier today before United States District Court Chief Judge Edward R. Korman at the U. S. Courthouse in Brooklyn, New York. The remaining defendants are charged in three separate indictments - Director of Ferry Operations RYAN with 11 counts of seaman's manslaughter, obstruction of justice and false statement, Port Captain MAULDIN with obstruction of justice and false statement, and Captain GANSAS and Dr. TURSI with false statements.1 RYAN, MAULDIN and TURSI are scheduled to be arraigned tomorrow at 2:00 p.m., before United States Magistrate Judge Steven M. Gold. GANSAS's arraignment will be scheduled before Judge Korman.

Staten Island Ferry Service

The Staten Island Ferry Service (the "Ferry") provides ferry service year-round, 24hours per-day, between its terminals at St. George, Staten Island and Whitehall in Manhattan. The Ferry operates seven vessels, including the 6,000 passenger Andrew J. Barberi, each ownedby the City of New York. The Ferry's vessels are equipped with two pilothouses, one on eitherend of the vessel, enabling the vessels to travel between Whitehall and St. George withoutturning around. During normal operation, two pilots are on board each vessel - the Captaintypically pilots the vessel to Whitehall, and the Assistant Captain pilots the vessel on the returntrip.

Duty to Ensure Safety of Passengers

The Director of Ferry Operations is responsible for fulfilling the Ferry's duty to ensure the safety of its passengers during each passage. An essential aspect of that duty is to ensure that the vessels are in the control of an attentive and qualified pilot, and that all necessary precautions are taken to guard against the hazard of a pilot's sudden disability. Between 1958and approximately 1994, various Directors took steps to discharge their responsibility by periodically promulgating rules and regulations to the Ferry's personnel requiring, among other precautions, that the Assistant Captain remain in the same pilothouse occupied by the Captain while the vessel was under way (the "Two-Pilot Rule").

Coast Guard License Renewal Medical Procedure

Ferry pilots must be licensed by the United States Coast Guard. Once the CoastGuard issues a pilot's license, the pilot is required to undergo a physical examination and submit a Merchant Marine Personnel Physical Report (the "Medical Report") to the Coast Guard every five years as part of renewing and maintaining a valid license. The Medical Report is required to disclose the pilot's medications, their dosages, purposes and side effects, and whether the pilot suffered or had ever suffered from certain medical conditions. Medical Reports have to be signed by the pilot and the physician, or the person who performs the examination. If the Coast Guard determines that a medication being taken could compromise a pilot's ability to safely control a vessel, it can revoke or terminate the license. The charges allege that on October 15, 2003, at the time of the fatal crash of the Barberi, SMITH was the only pilot in the pilothouse and was under the influence of the prescription pain killer Tramadol and the non-prescription substance diphenhydramine found in over-the-counter allergy remedies. Known side effects of these drugs include drowsiness, dizziness and confusion. During the final stage of the voyage, SMITH lapsed into a diminished state of consciousness while at the controls, failed to slow the high rate of speed of the Barberi as it approached the concrete maintenance pier southeast of St. George, and was unaware that the vessel had veered off course into the pier.

SMITH pleaded guilty to 11 counts of seaman's manslaughter under 18 U.S.C. § 1115,2 one count for each of the 11 passengers who died as a result of the crash. According to the information filed by the government, in August 2000, at a time when he was regularly using Tramadol and other prescription medications, SMITH gave false information to the Coast Guard on his mandatory Medical Report. That report, completed by the defendant Dr. WILLIAM TURSI, falsely indicated that SMITH was not taking any prescription medications.

SMITH also pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement under 18 U.S.C. §1001(a)(3) based on his submission to the Coast Guard of that false Medical Report. In a separate indictment, Dr. TURSI has been charged with making a false statement to the Coast Guard under 18 U.S.C. §1001(a)(3), also based on the false Medical Report. When sentenced, for each count of manslaughter SMITH faces a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release. SMITH also faces a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release for making a false statement to the Coast Guard. If convicted, TURSI faces a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release for making a false statement to the Coast Guard.

Ferry Director Charged

PATRICK RYAN has been the Director of Ferry Operations for the New York City Department of Transportation since June 2001, and previously served as Director between 1994 and 1996. Today's indictment charges RYAN with 11 counts of seaman's manslaughter under 18 U.S.C. § 1115 for negligently failing in his duty to ensure the safety of the Ferry's passengers. That duty required RYAN to take appropriate measures to prevent a crash if a pilot were to become suddenly disabled.

Historically, the Ferry had promulgated rules that required both the Captain and the Assistant Captain to be in the operating pilothouse while the vessel was under way, known as the Two-Pilot Rule, to ensure that if the pilot was suddenly disabled for any reason another pilot would be immediately available to navigate the vessel. Ferry operating rules, including the Two-Pilot Rule, were redrafted with RYAN's participation in 1987. However, the indictment alleges that beginning in the mid-1990s, when RYAN first became Director (1994-1996), the Ferry stopped disseminating, training on and enforcing these rules. In June 2001, when RYAN began his second term as Director, he once again redrafted the Ferry's written rules, creating a draft set of Standard Operating Procedures (the "SOPs"), which if implemented, could have prevented a disaster in the event of the sudden disability of the pilot. The indictment alleges that the SOPs were never enforced, let alone disseminated, to the crews of the Ferry. Captains and Assistant Captains were never trained to be together in the pilothouse while underway. Moreover, the indictment charges that notwithstanding his participation in the drafting and redrafting of the Ferry's safety rules and procedures, RYAN did not personally comply with the Two-Pilot Rule when, between 1996 and 1999 and again in 2001, he served as a Captain at the Ferry.

As a result of his negligence in failing to ensure the safety of the passengers by promulgating, disseminating and training the crews on the rules and regulations for the safe operation of the Ferry's vessels, including the Two-Pilot Rule, RYAN has been charged with 11counts of seaman's manslaughter. In addition, the indictment alleges that RYAN obstructed the Coast Guard's investigation into the causes of the crash of the Barberi under 18 U.S.C. §§1512(c)(2) and 1512(b)(3) by producing a copy of the SOPs to the National Transportation Safety Board and to the Coast Guard and falsely claiming that the SOPs had been distributed to Ferry crews and were in force. RYAN compounded this crime by subsequently falsely claiming to a Coast Guard investigator that he personally followed the Two-Pilot Rule while serving as a Captain at the Ferry, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2). JOHN MAULDIN served as Port Captain of the Ferry between 1995 and 1997 and between 1999 and 2003. He has also served as Captain (1997-1998 and 1985-1995). As Port Captain, his principal responsibility was to assist the Director. MAULDIN has been indicted for obstructing the National Transportation Safety Board's investigation under 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2), and for making a false statement in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2), by falsely claiming during an interview with an NTSB investigator that the Two-Pilot Rule had been disseminated to the Ferry's crews and was in force at the time of the crash.

If convicted, RYAN faces a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment, a fine of $250,000, and three years of supervised release on each count of manslaughter; 20 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release for obstructing the investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board; 10 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and three years supervised release for obstructing the investigation by the Coast Guard; and five years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and three years supervised release for making a false statement to the Coast Guard. If convicted, MAULDIN faces a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment, a fine of $250,000, and three years of supervised release for obstructing the investigation of the National Transportation Safety Board, and five years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release for making a false statement to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Captain Gansas Indicted

As charged in a separate indictment, GANSAS was the Captain on the Barberi on October 15, 2003, as the vessel departed from Whitehall to St. George, under the operation of Assistant Captain SMITH. As the vessel neared St. George, SMITH was the only pilot in the pilothouse. Following the fatal crash of the vessel, GANSAS entered the pilothouse, assumed control of the ferry, and maneuvered it into the St. George Terminal. After the Barberi was docked, GANSAS was separately interviewed by investigators from the Coast Guard and detectives of the New York City Police Department.

The indictment charges that in those interviews, GANSAS falsely stated that he was in the pilothouse with SMITH at and immediately preceding the crash, that he had observed SMITH pass out and become comatose, and that he had pushed SMITH aside and assumed control of the vessel before the impact with the pier but that his efforts to avert the collision had been too late. If convicted, GANSAS faces a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment, a$250,000 and three years of supervised release for making a false statement to the Coast Guard.

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