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Ferry Pilot, Captain Said to Be Indicted

New York City Ferry Pilot, Captain to Be Indicted in Crash, Law Enforcement Sources Say

Aug 4, 2004 | AP

After a 10-month investigation into the Staten Island ferry crash that killed 11 commuters and exposed systemic problems with the ships' operations, the captain, pilot and city ferry officials were expected to be indicted, law enforcement sources said.

Prosecutors planned to announce the unsealing of an indictment Wednesday that includes 11 counts of manslaughter in last year's crash and would name Capt. Michael Gansas, Assistant Capt. Richard Smith and other ferry officials as defendants, the sources said.

Smith was scheduled to enter a guilty plea Wednesday in federal court in Brooklyn, according to the calendar for Chief Judge Edward Korman. The calendar did not specify the charge, and Smith's lawyer declined to comment Tuesday.

The indictment also names a physician who treated Smith before the accident, said one of the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity and refused to give further details.

The ferry, the Andrew J. Barberi, slammed into a concrete maintenance pier on Staten Island on the afternoon of Oct. 15, tearing open a 250-foot-long gash extending 8 feet into its hull. The accident killed 11 people, injured dozens and led to billions of dollars in civil claims.

Smith, who was at the helm of the vessel when it crashed, initially said he passed out at the controls and suggested that a medication he was taking may have caused him to lose consciousness. He fled after the wreck and tried to commit suicide, slashing his wrists and shooting himself with a pellet gun.

Investigators said Gansas, the ferry's captain, violated procedure by not being in the wheelhouse during docking, when Smith lost control.

Gansas initially refused to cooperate with investigators, saying he was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, and was fired. He met with federal prosecutors in January. His attorney declined to comment Tuesday.

Gansas has offered mismanagement as a defense, and the criminal investigation expanded its focus in the months after the crash from the crew to high-ranking ferry officials and whether they neglected safety rules so grievously that they committed crimes.

Investigators have examined the actions of director of ferry operations Patrick Ryan and port captains Joseph Ecock and John Mauldin. The three men's attorneys said Tuesday that they had received no notice that their clients would be indicted, and they declined to comment on the investigation.

The city has since revamped its procedures, and it now requires crew members to report to their stations as their ferry nears shore and alert supervisors by radio that they are in position. Three crew members instead of two are required to be in the wheelhouse.

Laura Diaz, 41, who was on her way home from work as a court clerk, fractured her femur and pelvis and has yet to return to her job, settled with the city last month for $1.125 million the largest crash-related settlement reached with the city so far. Thirty-two others had totaled around $600,000.

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