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Captain Subpoenaed In N.Y. Ferry Crash Probe

Oct 22, 2003 | AP

The National Transportation Safety Board has subpoenaed the captain of the runaway Staten Island Ferry involved in last week's crash that killed 10 and maimed seven, demanding he appear today after skipping an appointment with investigators yesterday.

The board took the unusual step after six days of legal wrangling with attorneys for Captain Michael Gansas, 38, who suddenly withdrew an offer to talk hours before the meeting.

"We are disgusted that Captain Gansas, a New York City employee . . . is not cooperating" with the NTSB, city Transportation Commissioner Iris Weinshall said last night. "In light of the loss of life, it is outrageous."

The NTSB issues only a few subpoenas seeking hostile witnesses out of the 2,500 air, road, and maritime accident investigations it conducts each year, agency officials said.

In 1989, the NTSB issued a subpoena to the captain of the Exxon Valdez after he ran the oil tanker aground in Alaska. Subpoenaed witnesses have the right to counsel and can invoke the Fifth Amendment, a board spokesman said.

If Gansas fails to show up today, he could be arrested by US marshals and fined or jailed.

Calls to Gansas' attorney, Catherine Foti, were not returned.

NTSB investigators also have not interviewed Assistant Captain Richard Smith, 55, who remains hospitalized after attempting suicide. Although witnesses say Smith is awake and alert in his hospital bed, officials want him to recover further before interrogating him, said NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway.

Staten Island District Attorney William Murphy said yesterday that he would consider giving some crew members immunity from prosecution as a way of getting information.

Investigators think Gansas may have violated city regulations by failing to remain alongside Smith while the Andrew J. Barberi was in motion.

According to law enforcement sources, Smith passed out at the helm, sending the 3,000-ton vessel on a collision course with a concrete maintenance pier.

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