Families of students killed in duck boat crash speak on eve of trial

The pilot of this tug boat, photographed minutes after running over a duck boat last year, was blamed by the NTSB for distracted driving that led to two deaths.
RIKARD LARMA/METRO

The families of  Dora Schwendtner, 16, and Szabolcs Prem, 20, two Hungarian students killed when the Ride the Ducks boat they were on capsized in July 2010, were in town today on the eve of a federal court date.

“We want today in our son’s name what we always wanted: justice,” said Szabolcs’ father Sandor Prem. “Every day is filled with pain and sorrow made even deeper by knowing that those responsible – the barge owner and Ride the Ducks – have still not been held accountable.”

A tugboat owned and operated by K-Sea Transportation Partners pushed a 250-foot empty sludge barge into and over the amphibious sightseeing vessel as it idled in an active shipping channel on the Delaware River, sending 35 people and two crew members overboard.

Citing an 1851 maritime law, K-Sea and the Georgia-based Ride the Ducks International, LLC will appeal to a U.S. District Court judge Monday to cap their amount of financial liability based on the value of each of their vessels, which would be $1.65 million for the tugboat and $150,000 for the duck boat.

“To say that my son’s life is worth the value of a ship doesn’t make sense.  You can build another ship, but I can’t have another Szabolcs,” said his mother Maria Prem.

The provision under which the operators are seeking relief can only be invoked if they prove they were unaware of any contributing problems before the accident, a fact the families’ lawyers contest.

“The evidence to be presented at trial will conclusively establish that this accident was not a freak unpredictable occurrence, but occurred because of multiple egregious failures of K-Sea and Ride the Ducks to properly train their employees and to have adequate policies and procedures in place,” lawyers from Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky, a firm representing the complainants, said in a statement.

“The facts are overwhelming – they knew about the problems and failed to take action,” Robert Mongeluzzi said today. He referenced a twelve-minute video recently released by the complainants’ counsel that shows the moments leading up to the tragedy.

“I think it shows the devastating effect that not a single person was able to put on a life vest before impact,” he said, noting the number of vests that can be seen bobbing in the water after the crash. “It shows an abysmal failure on the part of Ride the Ducks. … They were told not to put their life vests on and that killed Dora and Szabolcs.”

The court date is just another chapter in the ongoing legal saga surrounding the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board last June released a 4,400 page report concluding that the duck boat overheated after an inexperienced mechanic performing his first unsupervised post-trip inspection the night before left the radiator cap off the engine, causing the captain to shut the vessel down during the tour because he believed there was a fire on board.

The report also found that tugboat First Mate Matthew Devlin failed to see the idling ship because he was distracted by his cell phone, a violation attorneys argue was a regular and widespread occurrence among K-Sea employees of which the company was aware and did not address. Devlin was sentenced to two years in prison in November after pleading guilty to a maritime charge similar to involuntary manslaughter.

Attorneys also cited the design of the duck boat, whose canopies trapped the victims underwater, and the tug’s lack of an emergency air horn and radio.

The families, whose wrongful death suit also names the City of Philadelphia, which owned the barge, said the prolonged timeline of the litigation has made the experience even more painful. “Every day I wonder how any parent could explain to their child what happened here, and how today we still have duck boats on the water on the same river where our Dora drowned,” said her father Peter Schwendtner.

“We still do not have answers. We still suffer. And we still cannot believe that there is still such a low regard for the lives of those lost long before the prime of their lives.”

The non-jury appeals trial is expected to last as long as four weeks and involve more than two dozen witnesses. The case will then move back to state court, where the wrongful death suit will be argued. Mongeluzzi estimated it will be “years” before the trial wraps up.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
News

Libya seeks ceasefire as south Tripoli a militia…

By Patrick Markey and Aziz El YaakoubiTRIPOLI (Reuters) - Black plumes of smoke marked shell blasts and bulldozed earthen barricades mapped out the frontlines around…

Breaking: News

Russia mad about sanctions, says U.S. contributing to…

Russia reacted angrily on Saturday to additional sanctions imposed by the European Union over Moscow's role in the Ukraine crisis, saying they would hamper cooperation…

National

Mutant worms stay sober, even on alcohol

U.S. researchers have developed "mutant worms" that do not get drunk by alcohol, a breakthrough that could lead to new treatment for people trying to quit drinking

Local

K-9 nose helps capture $150K in cocaine at…

A furry, four-legged security agent helped authorities stop an illegal cocaine shipment from sneaking past JFK customs.

Movies

Review: Brett Ratner's big 'Hercules' movie is small…

The latest "Hercules," starring Dwayne Johnson as the half-god beefcake of Greek myth, strips its hero and tale of most of its fantastical elements.

Arts

Scientists recreate world's smallest Monet copy

Scientists have reproduced a famous Impressionist painting using nano-printing, to create what has been described as the world's smallest work of art. Reworked at the…

Television

Jerry Seinfeld is ambidextrous, and other Reddit AMA…

See some of the weirder highlights of Jerry Seinfeld's recent Reddit AMA.

Going Out

Grab a pedestrian and start dancing at What…

As a New Yorker, I’ve mastered the art of focusing my gaze straight ahead. Though it occasionally piques my interest, the absurdities that play out…

U.S. Soccer

Orlando City takes shot at NYCFC over Frank…

Orlando City reminded the world how big a signing Brazilian star Kaka earlier this month with a photo of Kaka mobbed by fans juxtaposed against Lampard.

NBA

Jeremy Lin says 'Linsanity' is over as he…

Jeremy Lin lit up the NBA two years ago with his play for the Knicks but he has no desire to recreate "Linsanity" in his new career with the Lakers.

NFL

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player…

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player rankings

U.S. Soccer

NYCFC announce signing of Frank Lampard

The tease of a big signing Thursday by new MLS side NYCFC ended up being one rumored for weeks. England midfielder Frank Lampard agreed to…

Tech

Forget Wi-Fi: Li-Fi could be the future

Li-Fi technology – developed by Mexican company Sisoft – is wireless internet connectivity using specialized LED light.

Tech

Weather app Climendo might be the most accurate…

The wait for a truly accurate weather forecast could finally be over thanks to a nifty new app called Climendo.

Tech

Napkin Table puts focus off the phone and…

Michael Jan, a design student at Tunghai University in Taiwan, has invented a serviette-picnic blanket hybrid called the Napkin Table.

Style

Essie's new Color Boutique

Essie launches high-tech kiosks at major airports and malls across the country.