Tugboat Mate Can’t Duck Blame In River Crash

U.S. DISTRICT Judge Legrome D. Davis said he understood that the man standing before him had no previous criminal history and that, based on letters from Matt Devlin’s friends and family, Devlin was a good man.

Despite this, Davis told Devlin during a sentencing hearing, he had to serve jail time – 12 months and a day, making him eligible for parole after 10 months – for his role in the July 2010 duck-boat accident on the Delaware. Devlin, 35, of Catskill, N.Y., also received three years’ probation and surrendered his Coast Guard-issued license as a mate.

Federal sentencing guidelines were three to four years in prison.

Devlin was the tugboat mate who pushed the barge that rammed into the duck boat sitting idle in the river with 37 passengers. The boat’s captain had sent out several Mayday calls, as did a nearby ferry, but Devlin had the radio volume turned down. He also was using a laptop computer and his cellphone and had moved to the lower wheelhouse from the upper wheelhouse, which is smaller but has a better long-range view.

Two passengers, Hungarian tourists Szabolcs Prem, 20, and Dora Schwendtner, 16, drowned, and many others were treated for injuries.

Schwendtner’s and Prem’s parents were listening yesterday from an audio hookup, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Zauzmer said.

“You’re pushing a barge down a river that’s almost the size of a football field. Very few people are entrusted with that responsibility,” the judge said in a soft voice. “For those who have earned that responsibility, it’s fair of us as a society to expect them to do their job . . . it’s fair of us to expect you to be able to handle the events in your life.”

Davis was referring to the distractions that kept Devlin from concentrating on commanding the vessel. He had received a phone call from his wife, Corinne, who testified that their son Jacob had been deprived of oxygen for eight minutes during what was supposed to be a routine eye procedure. She wasn’t getting much information from the hospital so she called Devlin, who was overwhelmed by the news, Corinne Devlin testified.

” ‘I’m so scared I can’t feel my legs,’ ” Matt Devlin told her. Jacob recovered.

Bob Mongeluzzi, an attorney for the Hungarian victims, said yesterday: “While Mr. Devlin has accepted his responsibility for that fateful day, his employer, K-Sea Transportation and Ride the Ducks, continue to deny their responsibility . . . The parents look forward to having their day in court . . .”

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