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Boater grounded for 3 years in fatality

The driver of a 63-foot sport cruiser received a one-year suspended sentence and a three-year ban from boating for his role in a 2008 daytime collision that killed the owner of a 35-foot sailboat on Buzzards Bay, Mass.

Fred M. Bevins, 61, of Gloucester, Mass., was punching in a GPS waypoint aboard his Sea Ray 630, Reasons, seconds before the early afternoon crash July 18, according to the Coast Guard.

In this accident reconstruction, investigators place two boats in the approximate position at the time of the crash.

David “D.J.” Walsh, 64, owner and skipper of the Freedom 35, Priority, was killed. His friend Warren G. Hathaway, 67, who was in the sailboat’s cabin when the Sea Ray struck, suffered minor injuries.

A marine surveyor’s report obtained by Soundings says Bevins estimated the speed of the Sea Ray at 20 knots at the time of impact. Under full sail and with its Yanmar diesel shut down, Priority was making about 3 knots, says Hathaway.

Bevins pleaded guilty Nov. 5 in New Bedford (Mass.) District Court to negligent operation of a vessel, according to Charles Murray, the attorney representing Walsh’s widow, Melody. Under the plea agreement, Bevins was also sentenced to 10 years of supervised probation and must surrender his Coast Guard captain’s license for five years and his driver’s license for three months, says Murray.

“He is prohibited from using, operating, chartering or being a passenger on any vessel for three years,” says Murray. “Keeping a person who is a boater off the water for three years is significant.”

The sentencing sends a message to all boaters, says Hathaway. “The main thing is accountability,” he says. “If you don’t pay attention on a boat, you must be ready to pay the consequences.”

Had this been a motor vehicle accident, the sentencing would have been similar because Bevins has no prior criminal record and was proven not to be using drugs or alcohol at the time, the judge said at the sentencing, according to published reports.

David 'D.J.' Walsh - pictured here with his wife, Melody - died in the crash.

The accident occurred about 4-1/2 miles south of South Dartmouth, Mass. “When the boat hit us, it was the most horrific sound I ever heard — the sound of breaking fiberglass and the cabin getting crushed,” says Hathaway.

Walsh, the retired president of a specialty metals company, was an experienced sailor and a member of the New Bedford Yacht Club board of directors. He was at the wheel of his 1994 sloop on a broad reach across Buzzards Bay that would have returned them to Padanaram Harbor in South Dartmouth. Visibility was seven to eight miles, with an 8-mph southwest wind, according to the Coast Guard crew that responded. The crash took place around 1:40 p.m.

In his written statement taken at the scene, Bevins, the owner of the 1993 Sea Ray, told Coast Guard personnel he was setting a waypoint on the GPS. “Looked up to see sailboat in front of me. No time to avoid crash,” he says in the statement. Also aboard the powerboat was the skipper’s wife, Ellen, and the Bevinses’ grandson. Ellen Bevins was laying on a stern sunpad when the crash occurred, according to her statement to the Coast Guard.

Earlier this year the Walsh family settled a wrongful death lawsuit against Bevins. No details were released. The attorney who represented Bevins at the sentencing, George Hassett, was unavailable for comment. He did say at the sentencing that his client was a hard-working family man with children and grandchildren, according to published reports.

Bevins, the owner of a family-run auto repair shop in Gloucester, Mass., received his Coast Guard documentation for Reasons in November 2007, according to the Coast Guard database. Sea Ray 630s built in the early 1990s were powered by twin diesels from about 1,100 hp to 1,400 hp each. The 63-footer weighs 54,500 pounds and has a beam of 15 feet, 9 inches.

Walsh and Hathaway had spent hundreds of hours on the water together through the years, most of them coaching the Dartmouth High School sailing team.

Walsh bought his Freedom 35 in 1999. The two-stateroom boat has a self-tending jib and unstayed carbon-fiber mast and it can be sailed short-handed, which Walsh often did with his wife. The boat was named Priority because boating was a priority for Walsh, say friends.

This article originally appeared in the New England Home Waters Section of the January 2010 issue.