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Lawsuits Loom In Wake of Ferry Accident

Oct 19, 2003 | AP

A mangled Staten Island ferry, its flags at half-mast, was moved Saturday from the terminal where it rammed a concrete pier earlier in the week, a crash that killed 10 people and set up the city for an anticipated stream of lawsuits.

The first notice of claim against the city was filed Friday on behalf of a ferry passenger and her 7-year-old son, seeking $10 million.

The promises of lawsuits came within four days of the crash, and before the National Transportation Safety Board had finished the investigation into its cause.

NTSB investigators completed the bulk of their work aboard the ferry, which sat near the Staten Island shoreline as they sifted through its twisted metal, splintered wood and broken glass, and are now increasingly focusing on the crew, particularly its pilot.

The NTSB issued a subpoena Friday seeking blood and urine samples from pilot Richard Smith to determine if he was taking prescription medicine on the day of the crash. The ferry's captain, Michael Gansas, told investigators that he saw Smith unconscious and slumped over the controls before the crash.

Smith, who authorities say tried to commit suicide after the wreck, remained hospitalized in critical condition Saturday. Investigators hoped to determine if high blood pressure medication caused him to collapse.

The Andrew J. Barberi was going full throttle, about 17 mph, when it went off course Wednesday afternoon and hit the concrete maintenance pier hundreds of feet from its normal slip, crushing the ferry's lower side.

In addition to the 10 people killed, more than 60 were injured, including three who lost limbs. Fourteen people were still hospitalized as of Saturday evening.

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