Captain faces $250 fine, 15 days in jail

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Some say misdemeanor charges are inadequate; grand jury recommends changes to N.Y. state law

Some say misdemeanor charges are inadequate; grand jury recommends changes to N.Y. state law

A grand jury in Warren County, N.Y., has indicted the captain of the tour boat Ethan Allen and its corporate owner on misdemeanor charges in the Oct. 2, 2005, deaths of 20 passengers, most of them elderly, when the boat capsized on Lake George.

The captain, Richard Paris, a retired state trooper, faces a $250 fine and up to 15 days in jail for allegedly knowingly operating without a second crewman required by law. The corporation, Shoreline Cruises Inc., faces a $250 fine.

District Attorney Kathleen B. Hogan acknowledges that the penalties might not seem adequate given the enormity of the tragedy in which, on a mild early fall day, a score drowned and 28 others on board, including the captain, were thrown into the water. “Some people will say, ‘Geez, for 20 people dead, to have [only] two unclassified misdemeanors doesn’t seem like a lot,’ ” Hogan says. But she says the grand jury “followed every viable avenue.”

“At least somebody was indicted for something,” says attorney James E. Hacker, who represents the estates of three victims and is a court appointed liaison for other victims in the case. “The unfortunate thing is New York law is so antiquated in this particular area and so weak, and it’s without any teeth.”

Hogan says the grand jury has made recommendations for the state legislature, but she will not reveal those recommendations until county judge John S. Hall Jr. completes his review of the case. “The grand jury report making legislative recommendations is an affirmative step forward to try to change the status of the law,” Hogan says.

Warren County Sheriff Larry Cleveland says that after his department investigated the accident, “We declined to file charges and turned it over to them [the district attorney] for legal analysis. We support their decision.”

Hogan says she has spoken with the attorney for Paris and Shoreline but hasn’t discussed a plea agreement. The defendants were to appear in Warren County Court Feb. 14 to be arraigned and enter pleas.

“It’s hard to explain to people that New YorkState laws are so antiquated and so remiss that the only thing we can bring back is a misdemeanor,” says Hacker, who praises Hogan for taking on the challenge. He says his clients “are gratified that the district attorney took the time.”

The National Transportation Safety Board, which analyzed the accident, found last year that the Ethan Allen, which was licensed to carry 48 passengers, was unstable with more than 14 passengers. Noting that the stability of the boat, a Dyer 40 built in the 1960s, hadn’t been tested following the modification of its canopy, the NTSB says its own stability test following the accident showed that 14 was the maximum number of passengers it should have carried on the day of the accident.

The NTSB, pointing out that the Ethan Allen had encountered a large wake from a passing vessel just before it capsized, says that Paris’ attempt “to turn the vessel into [an] oncoming wake before the capsizing was a normal reaction to the circumstances, but not timely enough to be effective.”

The tour boat was equipped with rows of bench seats mounted athwartships so that passengers were facing forward. Survivors of the accident described a scene of passengers sliding across the seats and piling up on the port side when Paris turned sharply to starboard to deal with the wake. The movement of those bodies was followed by the capsizing to port, they say.

For more on the Ethan Allen tragedy, search the story archives at Soundings Online.com. Keyword: Ethan Allen.