WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) — A man who crashed a powerboat into a barge on the Hudson River, killing a bride-to-be and a best man two weeks before her wedding, pleaded guilty Monday to reduced charges and acknowledged he was drunk at the time.
Jojo John, 36, of Nyack, was promised a sentence of two years in a local jail in exchange for pleading guilty to second-degree vehicular manslaughter, the Rockland County district attorney’s office said.
John was piloting a 19-foot Stingray on July 26 when it crashed into a stationary barge involved in the construction of a new Tappan Zee Bridge, about 30 miles north of Manhattan.
The impact killed Lindsey Stewart of Piermont and Mark Lennon of Pearl River, both 30 and friends of John. John and three other friends, including groom-to-be Brian Bond, were injured. John’s lawyer, David Narain, said John suffered a fractured skull and fractured spine.
Prosecutors said John had nearly twice the legal level of alcohol in his system when the boat crashed, and quoted him as telling first responders, “I’ve been drinking all day,” or words to that effect. Narain said Monday that John said in court that he was intoxicated.
“By his reckless actions, the defendant illustrated the lethal consequences resulting from driving while intoxicated,” Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said.
Narain, however, has asserted that the crash was caused by a lack of lighting on the barge, not by intoxication. The Coast Guard and the state Thruway Authority, which is building the bridge, said the barge was properly lighted, although the Thruway Authority added lighting after the crash.
Narain said complaints had been made about the lighting before the crash and “no corrective measures were ever taken.”
Stewart’s and Lennon’s families made the same claim in civil lawsuits, naming several companies involved in the construction. They said they had spoken to survivors and “none of them saw the barge. They did not brace for impact and could not identify what they had hit — even after impact.”
But they also sued John, as co-owner of the boat, and said he was careless and negligent.
John’s civil lawyer, James Mercante, said Monday that he couldn’t comment on how the guilty plea might affect the lawsuits until he learns exactly what John acknowledged.
The construction area alongside the existing Tappan Zee is now far more congested with construction vessels than at the time of the crash. The Thruway Authority has issued precise guidelines for recreational boating in the area.
Sentencing was scheduled for Sept. 16. The original charges included operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol, as well as first-degree vehicular manslaughter. If convicted at trial in county court in New City, John could have been sentenced to five to 15 years in prison.
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