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Tugboat first mate admits role in duckboat crash

Aug. 2, 2011 at 1:37 AM   |   Comments

PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 2 (UPI) -- The first mate of a tugboat involved in a fatal collision with an amphibious tour boat in Philadelphia pleaded guilty Monday during an emotional hearing.

Matthew R. Devlin of Catskill, N.Y., admitted he was using his cellphone while he was responsible for steering the tugboat, which was moving a barge, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. He said he had just learned of complications in surgery his son was undergoing in an Albany, N.Y., hospital.

The barge crashed into a Ride the Ducks boat, sinking it. A teenage girl and young man, both part of a Hungarian church group, were killed.

"I got news that my son had gone 8 minutes without oxygen, and I didn't know what that meant. The only connection I had was my cellphone and I used that, and I really wish I hadn't," a tearful Devlin said. "I really wish I could take it all back."

Devlin faces 37 to 46 months in prison for misconduct by a ship operator causing death. He is to be sentenced in November.

A federal investigation found Devlin bore the most blame for the collision. But investigators said a mechanic failed to replace a radiator cap properly on the duck boat, causing a steam leak that led the crew to believe, wrongly, there was a fire and to come to a full stop in the middle of the river.

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