Ferry pilot admits guilt in accident

Staten Island vessel crashed, killing 11 people

August 05, 2004|By Anthony M. DeStefano | Anthony M. DeStefano,NEWSDAY

NEW YORK - The pilot of the Staten Island ferry that crashed last fall pleaded guilty to 11 manslaughter charges yesterday, admitting he was reckless in handling the vessel while taking medication that caused him to collapse at the helm.

Prosecutors announced the indictment of four others, including the captain and the head of ferry operations, a development that could have serious financial fallout for the city.

"My loss of consciousness was due to my physical condition, and my condition was further impaired by the various medications that I had taken," pilot Richard J. Smith, 55, said as he pleaded guilty to 11 counts of seaman's manslaughter before federal Judge Edward R. Korman in Brooklyn.

Smith said he was taking an assortment of prescription and over-the-counter drugs when the ferry crashed Oct. 15 while docking at Staten Island.

Smith also pleaded guilty to filing a false medical report, saying he covered up that he was taking medication because he feared it could cost him his job.

Although a prison term of up to 10 years is possible, Korman said sentencing guidelines call for Smith to receive 33 months to 41 months in prison.

He remains free on a personal recognizance bond until he is sentenced at a later date.

Also yesterday, prosecutors announced the indictments of four people, including Patrick Ryan, 52, the director of ferry operations, who was accused of the same manslaughter charges and of lying to investigators.

At a news conference, prosecutors said Ryan failed to disseminate and enforce a city rule that required two people to be in ferry pilot houses.

Nearly 200 legal claims totaling more than $3.2 billion have been filed against the city by families of the 11 victims who died and scores of injured passengers.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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