One-year sentence for tugboat officer in fatal duck boat crash

    A federal judge today sentenced the tugboat officer in last year’s fatal Duck Boat accident to a year and a day in prison.

    Matthew Devlin was piloting the tug pushing a 250-foot barge that ran over a stranded Duck Boat in the Delaware River, killing two Hungarian students.

    Devlin pled guilty to the maritime equivalent of involuntary manslaughter. He said he was distracted that day by a family medical crisis.

    After several hours of emotional testimony and argument, Judge Legrome Davis called Devlin “a good person,” but said he’d made inexcusable decisions that caused the death of two people.

    “You’re pushing a boat, a barge down the river almost the size of a football field,” Davis told Devlin before imposing the sentence. “Very few people have that kind of responsibility….it’s fair of us as a society to expect them to their job…you could run over a smaller craft. You could take out a bridge.”

    At the sentencing hearing, prosecutors showed a video of the accident shot from the roof of the Camden Aquarium by an army crew. Prosecutor Robert Zauzmer said it showed that the barge had at least six minutes to change its course after it was clear the Duck Boat was stranded in its path.

    Zauzmer also showed a video shot in Hungary in which parents of the two students killed in the accident share their grief.

    Devlin’s wife Corinne took the witness stand to explain that she’d called her husband’s cell phone that day after their five-year-old son Jacob suffered complications from eye surgery.

    She said a doctor had told her their son had been deprived of some oxygen for eight minutes, and she said Matthew Devlin was panicked about the potential effects.

    “I’m so sorry every day that I called him,” Corinne Devlin said, weeping on the stand.

    Referring to the victims, she said, “our hearts are broken for those families. My husband is sick with grief every day. He has nightmares.”

    Prosecutors said they were sympathetic to the Devlins, but that Matthew Devlin had made a series of fateful decisions. He left the elevated pilot house which gave him a good view off the river and went to a lower pilot house to get a quieter place to use his cell phone and use a computer.

    Devlin also turned down radios which were blaring emergency calls telling him he was about to run over the stranded vessel.

    And Devlin acknowledged he could have woken up the captain of the tug and given operation of the vessel to him so he could tend to his family situation.

    Zauzmer and Devlin’s attorney Frank DiSimone called Davis’s sentence fair.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal