Tugboat operator sentenced to prison in fatal 'duck boat' crash
November 1st, 2011
03:40 PM ET

Tugboat operator sentenced to prison in fatal 'duck boat' crash

A man at the helm of a tug boat and barge that crashed into a sightseeing "duck boat" in the Delaware River in Pennsylvania last year - an incident that killed two tourists - has been sentenced to a year and a day in prison, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

Matthew R. Devlin, of Catskill, New York, was sentenced for misconduct of a ship operator causing death, according to a U.S. attorney's office.

Two tourists from Hungary - one 16 years old, the other 20 - died when a 250-foot sludge barge towed by the tugboat overran a disabled 33-foot "Ride the Ducks" tour boat on the Delaware River in July 2010, plunging the amphibious vessel and its 35 passengers and two crew members underwater.

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Filed under: Courts • Justice • Pennsylvania
soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. RUFFNUTT (kcmo)...,,.

    why didn't they breath thru the tires like 007????

    November 1, 2011 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Tom

    I agree that the barge should not have ran into the duck, but is there a news story clearing the air about the condition of the duck before going out that day ? Also did any of you folks know the reason the tugboat captain was on the phone, I will let you research that for yourself, the problem I am having and I stand corrected if you can tell me different is: Why did they place all the blame on one person ?

    November 1, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Sheesh

    Because he was responsible for it, Tom. He did it. Not his mommy. Not his daddy. Not his cousin. Not his brother. Not his sister. Why is it so hard for your to understand? HE WAS THE TUGBOAT OPERATOR!!! IF YOI RUN OVER SOMEONE WITH YOUR CAR, WHO DO YOU THINK WE SHOULD HOLD RESPONSIBLE? YOUR MOMMY?
    He was not where he was supposed to be, he was in the wrong place, he fupped duck!! Are you dense? What's NOT to understand? JESUS GOD!!! What are ya, 9???

    November 1, 2011 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
  4. banasy©

    Tom: read this.

    Philadelphia (CNN) - The pilot of a tugboat towing a barge that crashed into a sightseeing "duck boat" - killing two tourists - intends to plead guilty to a charge stemming from the July 2010 accident, federal prosecutors said Thursday Matthew R. Devlin, 35, of Catskill, New York, has agreed to plead guilty to one count of misconduct of a ship operator causing death, according to a statement from the office of the U.S. attorney for eastern Pennsylvania. He also will surrender his ship¹s mate license, the statement said. Devlin could be sentenced to up to 46 months in prison, the statement said. No sentencing date was given. The plea agreement closes the case, the statement said. Two tourists from Hungary - one 16 years old, the other 20 - died when a 250-foot sludge barge towed by the tugboat overran a disabled 33-foot "Ride the Ducks" tour boat on the Delaware River, plunging the amphibious vessel and its 35 passengers and two crew members underwater. According to National Transportation Safety Board findings, tugboat pilot Devlin made and received 21 cell phone calls in addition to surfing the web using a company laptop during his more than two hours at the wheel. The NTSB released its final report on June 21. The incident was "another tragic example of the deadliness of distraction," Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the NTSB, said after the final report showed several people involved were on the cell phones or computers. After the accident, Devlin initially told his superiors and the Coast Guard that he was dealing with a serious family medical emergency involving his 6-year-old son. The sightseeing duck boat was anchored in the shipping channel after being shut down because the boat's operator saw smoke and feared an on-board fire. Lawyers who represented the families of the two victims released a statement Thursday saying the families "are gratified that Federal prosecutors have acted to hold one of the responsible parties accountable in this tragedy that should have been avoided." The statement from attorneys Robert J. Mongeluzzi, Andrew Duffy, Peter Ronai and Holly Ostrov Ronai added that the families "expect the corporations who were involved to acknowledge their roles and act accordingly." The statement did not elaborate.

    November 1, 2011 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ma & pa

    Here's a not funny puzzle. Does this byte fit in this account? A mother calls her son using a cell phone which, in fact, had been cloned and switched, she not realizing that yet. Son answers, she thinks near home, but call had been routed hundreds of miles away to a boy on a tug who is as astonished as the mother but he's busy with the boat and can't talk then. However, later when he thinks a coworker is staying at the wheel, he's calling numbers and gets mother. Astonished again and they talk again until he glances up and sees wheelman walking by and WHO is at the wheel?..starts to dash for there but da duck go crunch. Not funny. Later boy calls mother about situation. Mother says the usual words. Honest words unless crook trying to frame you. On considering this one mother wonders are sociopaths using real people's lives to play chess with again. Not funny.

    November 2, 2011 at 3:15 am | Report abuse |
  6. banasy©

    Ma & Pa:
    Sure, it would fit the small paragraph above, but not the actual story.

    "Transportation Safety Board findings, tugboat pilot Devlin made and received 21 cell phone calls in addition to surfing the web using a company laptop during his more than two hours at the wheel."

    Not to mention that he pled guilty.

    November 2, 2011 at 7:27 am | Report abuse |
  7. banasy©

    Also easily disputed by the cell towers.
    Easily proved by the cp records.

    Also by the fact he pled guilty.

    November 2, 2011 at 8:22 am | Report abuse |
  8. banasy©

    A picture is worth a thousand words.


    November 2, 2011 at 8:25 am | Report abuse |
  9. Tom

    Next time there is something you are trying to find out if there is a famiy emergency, I challenge any of you to not be on your cell phone while you are driving, I know you could not keep me off the phone if there was an emergency going on with my son in the hospital...... Compassion people, thats partly whats wrong with this whole country.

    November 2, 2011 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |


    November 2, 2011 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      And who does that ? just sayin

      November 2, 2011 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ma & pa

    The factual odd happening byte was purposely reported here for reference by anyone or noone anytime. Speculating by the mother on why comes up at best as a confusing false flag. She can now put it out of thought since byte is now out there, not in her cellphoneless kitchen.

    November 2, 2011 at 11:09 pm | Report abuse |
  12. banasy©

    I get your point, but now he's going to have to spend time away from his son, because he carelessly mowed into a boat that was disabled.
    His son has still got his father, alive.
    Two families are now without their loved ones.
    I have compassion for the people he killed.
    I suggest you take a look at the picture, and then say how much compassion this man really deserves.
    He was *also* on the ships computer for over two hours...

    You asked.."Who does that?"
    He did.

    Plus the fact he pled guilty.
    He did that because he *knew* he was in error.
    If you don't pull over while talking on the cell phone, and you mow down some kindergarteners crossing the street, do you think you should be absolved of all blame?
    Where do you live?
    I don't want to be anywhere near your streets when you're driving...
    Have empathy for the people he killed and injured, also, please.

    November 2, 2011 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      I think I understand where a lot of these thoughts are coming from so I will condiser the source, since you folks can't speak your mind without attacking me personally, so you guys go ahead and think what you will, I'm done.....

      November 3, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Patrick

    Tom, I understand your compassion and you are correct when you say that if someone has a family emergency and gets a call while they are driving, 9 out of 10 would not pull over their car to deal with the emergency. However, moving a several thousand ton barge with a tug in a river requires great skill and attentiveness to his duty. There are many ways a competent pilot could have handled this including ensuring someone was at the wheel, being present in the wheelhouse while he made his calls to ensure a competent presence if an emergency arose, etc. As it has been the tradition throughout maritime history, the captain is ALWAYS ultimately responsible for the conduct of his craft. The responsibility, accountability, and unfortunately the blame rests squarely with Mr, Devlin.

    November 4, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jesse

    I work out of Philadelphia and the ride the ducks really should not be on the Delaware river in the first place with all the ship and barge traffic they need to stick to city driving people who dont know what they are doing when they have a situation like this tend to lets just say dont know what to do it is however sad that people did lose their life and no one has to worry tha company was bought out after this accident by a company in texas i will not post the company but you can rest assure they are a very good company one of the biggest and best in the world

    November 8, 2011 at 3:17 am | Report abuse |
  15. iris

    This is not meant to diminish the tragedy in any way, nor argue that the tug Captain was treated unfairly. Just that there is a lack of information regarding specifics of the incident and that is what I think Tom was trying to get at.

    Seldom does the USCGuard find only one party completely responsible in a collision. Both Captains need to do everything they can to avoid a collision and injury or lose of life. It sounds to me that the Duck boat Captain shut his engine off as a precautionary act to the smoke he perceived which he feared was from a fire. That is not a totally unreasonable act, however, voluntarily going dead in the water in a busy shipping lane with many lives on board would be one of my last options. Depending on conditions, it is not uncommon for a distressed vessel (taking on water, fire, etc) to head to the nearest shore. Again, there a lack of information. What was the current, traffic conditions, water depth and temperature, how far away from shore? How far to go to be out of the shipping lane? Was anchoring in a shipping lane and shutting down engines really the right response to smoke?

    Was there a fire on the Duck boat? If not, what caused the smoke? Were the engines operational? What actions did the Captain take to answer these questions. On a boat that size, it shouldn't take more than a minute or two for Captain and crew to ascertain this information. Even if he weren't able to restart his engine and get out of the way, could he have expanded the scope of his anchor line to drift to a position outside of the shipping lane? Or employ a second anchor to pitch and pull up to and crawl out of the shipping lane?

    It was mid-summer, what was the water temperature? What were the wind and weather conditions. How far away from shore was the Duck boat and what was the nature of that shore? Were the passengers in their life jackets? Were there any form of lifeboats and were they ready-ed? At any point was it considered to ordered passengers into the water to swim for shore? If not, why not? It was stated the Duck boat captain tried to hail the tug on the radio. Did he also sound the 'danger' signal of five or more short whistles?

    Back to the tug boat, even a distracted crew probably gave an occasional glance ahead of them. Was the Duck boat displaying it's day shapes for a vessel 'not under command' (NUC = two circles)? This would have helped to call the tug's crew to attention, even at a casual glance that something was amiss, rather than assuming that the duck boat was underway and would get out of the tug boat's way, as one would normally expect.

    It would be amazing if all of these questions were answered in manner that completely absolved the Duck boat Captain of any culpability. I'm just saying, I don't know. Again, this is not meant to diminish the carelessness of the tug boat Captain or the tragedy that occurred, but it is a fair questions to ask the Duck boat Captain's culpability.

    January 17, 2012 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
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