Jojo John, the 36 year old operator of a 19 foot Stingray powerboat which collided with a barge just south of the Tappan Zee Bridge last July 26 around 10:45 PM, killing two and injuring three other people, pled guilty to two counts of vehicular manslaughter in the Rockland County Supreme Court on June 9, 2014 before Judge William Kelly. On July 26, 2013, John was at the helm of a speedboat on the Hudson River with friends Lindsey Stewart, 30, her fiancé Brian Bond, best man Mark Lennon, 30, and three other friends celebrating the upcoming nuptials of Mr. Bond and Ms. Stewart, which was scheduled for August of 2013. Ms. Stewart and Mr. Lennon were ejected from the boat when it struck a construction barge near the Tappan Zee Bridge and died at the scene. Mr. Bond suffered serious head and other injuries.
Mr. John was charged with operating the boat with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.15%. The legal limit in the State of New York is 0.08%. John initially denied that he was intoxicated, and contended, as did the surviving passengers on the boat, that the barge was inadequately lit and that this was the reason for the fatal accident, not the purported intoxication of Mr. John.
Although the plea by Mr. John gives some closure to the case, the surviving passengers continue to believe that the poorly lit barge was a significant factor in the tragedy. A spokesman for the families, who are suing both Mr. John and the barge owners and operators in civil court for money damages, contended that the barge owners were warned prior to the accident that the lighting was insufficient and was “an accident waiting to happen.” However, Rockland County DA Thomas Zugibe stated on Monday that there was no evidence of any criminality on the part of the barge owners and that the accident was a result of John’s intoxication and the excessive speed of the boat. He also noted that John was an experienced boat pilot who knew the location of the barge from a previous trip up the Hudson River. Zugibe noted that the negligence claims could be litigated in civil court.
Mr. John faces up to two years in prison when he is sentenced on September 16. He has been free on $25,000 bail. With the guilty plea, this will strengthen the civil cases by the estates of Mr. Lennon and Ms. Stewart as well as the other three passengers who were injured in the accident, as the standard of proof in a criminal case, beyond a reasonable doubt, is much greater than that of a civil case, which is “preponderance of the evidence” (meaning that the evidence pointing to John’s culpability would have to be proven to be slightly more than 50%, already established by the criminal plea).