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Published: Tuesday, 2/6/2007

Captain, owner are charged in boat tragedy

This photo released by the Warren County Sheriff's Office shows the Ethan Allen tour boat as it nears the shore on October 3, 2005. This photo released by the Warren County Sheriff's Office shows the Ethan Allen tour boat as it nears the shore on October 3, 2005.
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QUEENSBURY, N.Y. - A grand jury yesterday charged the owner of the Lake George, N.Y., cruise line and the captain of the boat that capsized in 2005, killing 20 senior citizens 19 from Michigan and one from Toledo.

Cindy Reuther of Ida lost her mother, Joyce Rochowiak, in the accident.

Mrs. Rochowiak, 69, of Temperance, was one of six Toledo-area women trapped under the overloaded Ethan Allen after it flipped on that calm, sunny day.

All six women were friends from the Bedford Senior Center who signed up for the New York and Vermont autumn foliage tour organized by a senior center in Trenton, Mich.

I m glad that the grand jury persevered and that they did what they could. But really it doesn t change anything. I lost my mother, Ms. Reuther said. But at least the owner [and the captain] are being held responsible. You just want someone to admit responsibility, rather than passing the buck like they have been trying to do.

Others from the Toledo area who died were Beverly Becker, 78; Viola Vi Urbaniak, 89; Virginia Ciesinski, 82, and JoAnn Manore, 74, all of Bedford Township, and Wilma LeJeune, 78, of West Toledo.

Shoreline Cruise Corp. and Capt. Richard Paris were indicted on criminal misdemeanor charges Friday for not having enough crew members aboard the Ethan Allen tour boat when it flipped over in Lake George.

These charges, made public yesterday, carry up to 15 days in jail and/or a $250 fine.

According to the prosecutor, District Attorney Kathleen Hogan of Warren County, there was not enough evidence to support a more serious charge of criminal negligence, because it was not possible to show the operators knew the boat would capsize. There was no reasonable way to show that this was foreseeable, she said.

New York law requires two crew members be abroad commercial vessels caring 21 to 48 passengers. Mr. Paris was the only crew member on the 47-passenger cruise that capsized on October 2, 2005.

In July, the National Transportation Safety Board found the 40-foot tour boat was unstable because it was carrying four times its weight capacity. Despite being certified to carry 50 passengers, the board found the boat was only safe for a maximum of 14 passengers.

Paris Paris
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The report stated the certification was based on obsolete passenger-weight guidelines that assumed an average passenger weighed 140 pounds instead of the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate of about 180 pounds.

Also since its initial certification, the Ethan Allen had been modified with a heavier canopy, a larger engine, and more ballast.

This extra weight, and possibly a wave from another boat, caused the Ethan Allen to flip, the NTSB said.

Since the accident, the Coast Guard has raised its average weight criteria from 160 pounds 140 pounds on protected waters to 185 pounds.

The grand jury yesterday also made several legislative recommendations, but Ms. Hogan said details on them would not be made public until they are accepted by the judge.

More than 20 lawsuits have been filed in federal court by survivors and victims families against the boat operators, said New York attorney James Hacker, the liaison council for the group of plaintiffs attorneys.

- Benjamin Alexander-Bloch

Contact Benjamin Alexander-Blochat: babloch@theblade.comor 419-724-6168.



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