A cruise line owner and the captain of a boat that capsized in 2005 in upstate New York, killing 20 elderly tourists, were indicted Monday on criminal misdemeanor charges.
A grand jury charged both Shoreline Cruises and Capt. Richard Paris with failing to have enough crew members aboard the Ethan Allen tour boat when it flipped over in Lake George, sending its passengers into the chilly water. Paris was the only crew member aboard; state navigation law required at least two for the 47 passengers on board that day.
The grand jury also made several legislative recommendations, Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan said at a morning news conference. Details won’t be released until a county court judge accepts the report, she said.
“They were greatly moved by this case,” Hogan said of the grand jury members.
A statement from the panel said: “This accident was a great tragedy. Our hearts go out to the victims, their families and friends.”
There was no immediate response to calls seeking comment from Shoreline, Paris and their lawyers.
The charges are punishable by up to 15 days in jail and/or a $250 fine.
Hogan said the grand jury could not hand up a more serious charge, such as criminal negligence, because there was not enough evidence to show that Shoreline or Paris knew the boat would capsize.
“Am I frustrated?” she said in response to a reporter’s question. “I think there was a lot of preventative actions that could have been done by the state of New York, and those actions really hampered the safety of these passengers.”
She said the grand jury did an exhaustive job under existing law.
“They were able to give the families of the victims the peace of mind that this case was reviewed and no rock was left unturned,” Hogan said.
Survivor Jean Siler, 78, of Trenton, Mich., said she broke a couple of bones in her back, her left arm and a rib in the accident, and is still being treated and “in a great deal of pain.”
“I’m glad somebody is going to be held responsible for this accident,” Siler said Monday.
Anna May Hawley of Trenton, Mich., was on the boat with her husband, Earl, who died in the capsizing.
“I think I still am a bit angry,” Hawley said Monday. “It’s been a long time, but it’s never going to go away. ... Whatever they do is not going to bring back the people who died.”
Hawley wouldn’t discuss whether she was involved in lawsuits against the boat operator, tour organizers or others, but said she believed more than the captain and cruise line owner were responsible.
“Somebody had to know that something was wrong.”
Nine lawsuits have been filed in federal court by survivors and victims’ families.
The day was clear and sunny, but investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board believe the 40-foot boat was rocked by a wake from a passing boat, or multiple boats.
The federal board concluded last summer that the boat was dangerously unstable and should have carried only a quarter of the passengers even though the Ethan Allen was certified to carry 48 passengers plus two crew. Weight limits have since been modified.
Passenger capacity for the boat was calculated when it was manufactured in 1966, but modifications over the years made it less stable and capacity should have been slashed to 14 people, the NTSB reported.