The captain in the Staten Island Ferry wreck that killed 10 people refused for a second day to meet with federal investigators Wednesday, despite a subpoena to discuss his role in the crash.
MICHAEL GANSAS had refused to meet with National Transportation Safety Board investigators on Tuesday, prompting federal officials to issue the subpoena. On Wednesday, Gansas’ attorney, Stephen Sheinbaum, said his client remained too traumatized to speak with investigators and was under medical care.
Gansas failed to show up at the Staten Island hotel where he was supposed to meet with NTSB officials.
“Mr. Gansas remains with his family as they try to deal with the tragic consequences of last week’s events,” Sheinbaum told reporters outside the hotel. “Mr. Gansas is being unfairly vilified by those who should know better.”
Hours before the scheduled meeting, the city transportation commissioner, Iris Weinshall, said she notified Gansas that he was suspended effective immediately over his refusal to cooperate.
NTSB spokesman Terry Williams said he was unaware that Gansas had refused to be interviewed and did not immediately comment on the consequences.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said earlier that it was “an outrage that somebody who can give us information to perhaps find out how we can improve service refuses to talk. A person like that has no business working for the city, and we will take every legal action we can to get his testimony.”
Bloomberg also said that the city will institute a series of reforms including requiring an extra person to be in the pilot’s cabin while the ferry is crossing New York Harbor. Current rules require a second person to be in the wheelhouse only during docking.
The ferries will also be outfitted with new radios and global positioning satellite technology, he said.
The captain’s whereabouts at the time of the crash last week are considered a vital element of the investigation because he could have provided backup if, as investigators suspect, the pilot, Richard Smith, blacked out at the throttle before the ferry plowed into a pier.
“I think the crux of this investigation is going to hinge upon the information provided by the two captains,” said state Rep. Vito Fossella, who represents Staten Island, “and that has yet to take place.”
Gansas told police immediately after the accident that he was in the pilot house and that he tried to pull Smith off the controls after he lost consciousness, an official familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press.
At least one deckhand has told investigators that Gansas was not in the pilot house, the official said on condition of anonymity.
The deckhand’s account was questioned by Gansas, who said the crew member was not in a position to see anyone in the pilot house, the official said.
Smith remained in critical condition and unable to talk after attempting suicide, his attorney said.
Alcohol and drug tests of the crew came back negative, and some investigators have speculated that Smith’s blood pressure medication may have caused him to lose consciousness.
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