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Council Plans Ferry Inquiry

Council on case as tribute is planned

Oct 20, 2003 | NEWSDAY

The chairman of the City Council's transportation committee said yesterday that he would hold hearings on the fatal Staten Island Ferry crash, as city officials said the 10 victims would be remembered in a ceremony near the crash site.

Councilman John Liu said the hearings which will be scheduled for mid-November would not replace a federal inquiry into the collision, but would look at whether customers are endangered by outmoded regulations.

"I'm disturbed I think many people are disturbed that so many lives would appear to be in the hands of a single individual," Liu (D-Flushing) said in an interview yesterday. He said the crash appeared to be what one might expect in a "primitive" era "something that happened 50 years ago."

He also questioned why the boat was not equipped with a warning signal, like he said one might expect on an airplane.

Tom Cocola, a spokesman for the city Department of Transportation, declined to comment.

Councilman Michael McMahon (D-Staten Island) said he anticipated Department of Transportation Commissioner Iris Weinshall would be among those asked to testify.

Talk of the hearings yesterday came as officials discussed having a memorial ceremony, details of which weren't announced. Mourners, meanwhile, pondered how a routine commute could turn so calamitous.

"He didn't deserve this," said Jessica Bagarozza, whose husband, Joseph, was mourned at a wake in the Great Kills section. Bagarozza, 35, a Wall Street clerk, left behind a daughter, Kristen, 10.

Standing outside the Casey McCallum-Rice Funeral Home, Jessica Bagarozza's sadness rose to anger.

"He had a 10-year-old daughter, who doesn't have a dad because of this stupid, stupid, stupid veering, or whatever it was," she said.

A spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, the lead investigatory agency looking into the 3:20 p.m. accident, said investigators spent yesterday studying documents related to the ferry, and did no interviews with witnesses or ferry officials.

The spokesman, Keith Holloway, said investigators had not yet interviewed either the pilot, Richard Smith, who was behind the wheel that day, or the captain, Michael Gansas, who under city guidelines was supposed to be with Smith as the ferry moved.

Witnesses have given conflicting information to federal officials, according to an investigator who spoke to Newsday on condition of anonymity.

Smith, who tried to commit suicide after the crash, remained hospitalized at St. Vincent's Staten Island Hospital; Gansas is to meet with investigators tomorrow.

At the Colonial Funeral Home on Hylan Boulevard, a steady stream of mourners paid respects to another crash victim, Pio Canini, 52, a carpenter and home builder from the Rosebank section.

"He built homes all over the eastern seaboard - North Carolina, Virginia," said Canini's son, Keith, adding that his father emigrated from Italy at about age 12, and built his first home at about 15.

Family members said yesterday that they had come up with a motto to describe Pio Canini "hands and heart of gold."

"He was a wonderful person, who would do anything for anyone," Keith Canini said, standing outside the funeral home in a chilly afternoon. "He valued family and friends not money."

At Bagarozza's wake, a friend said the crash came as Bagarozza was hurrying home to see the Yankees in Game 6 of the American League Championship series. "He always rushed home, to see the Yankee games, to make sure he doesn't miss it," said his friend John DiStefano, who added that the pair were looking to buy tickets to Game 7, but first wanted to see the results of Wednesday's game.

Beside Bagarozza's open casket near pictures from his youth stood a flower display arranged in a Yankee insignia.

DiStefano said he was sure his friend had been watching the Yankee's dramatic come-from-behind victory in Game 7 on Thursday, and added: "The Yankees better win this World Series."

But DiStefano said Bagarozza's real love was his daughter.

"He had so many dreams," he said. "He had so many dreams and goals for the betterment of his daughter."

Jessica Bagarozza said her daughter knew what happened to her father.

"She just cried," she said. But the finality of the loss had yet to sink in.

"She won't understand it 'til he's gone a few weeks," she said.

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