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Guilty plea in SI Ferry crash

The captain of the Staten Island Ferry that crashed into a concrete pier and killed 11 passengers has pleaded guilty to manslaughter, admitting that he was drugged up and completely derelict in his duty. The report mentions but goes into no detail about the fact that the director of the Ferries has also been charged with manslaughter for overseeing a system that was completely out of control. This Newsday story has much more.

“The Barberi crashed as a result of the criminal negligence of two individuals, Assistant Captain Richard Smith and ferry director Patrick Ryan,” U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf said Wednesday. “This was a tragedy waiting to happen.”

Prosecutors said Ryan neglected long-established safety practices, including the requirement that a ship’s captain and assistant captain share the wheelhouse during docking. The two-pilot requirement was put in place in 1958 to prevent an accident if one person was incapacitated, prosecutors said.

But Ryan never told new pilots about the rule or enforced it, prosecutors said. After the crash, he falsely told his superiors and federal investigators that the rule was in place, prosecutors said, leading to additional charges of making false statements and obstructing justice.

Ryan’s attorney said he had no immediate comment on the indictment. The city’s corporation counsel, Michael Cardozo, quickly issued a statement defending Ryan.

“We do not believe that Captain Patrick Ryan was guilty of manslaughter in the performance of his duties … as the indictment alleges,” Cardozo said. “Patrick Ryan has been a respected and loyal employee who brought about many improvements to the ferry over his long history of service.”


The plea and indictments followed a 10-month investigation into the crash, when a routine trip across New York Harbor turned into a nightmare of shattered glass and twisted metal as the boat slammed into the pier.

The crash tore open a 250-foot-long gash that ran 8 feet deep into the ship’s hull.

The accident revealed serious problems with safety rules on the ferries. Insiders leveled allegations of problems ranging from overtime abuse to retaliatory beatings. The city has revamped its procedures, requiring three crew members in the wheelhouse, for example.

“Retaliatory beatings”?? Good grief. I rode the Ferry for four years as part of my high school commute, plus two summers more for jobs. I was on board for a collision in 1981, though that one wasn’t the ferry captain’s fault. “Appalled” doesn’t begin to describe how I feel about this.

Here’s what the Newsday front page looks like today. Captain Smith could get up to three years in jail for his plea to 11 counts of manslaughter, which I have to say doesn’t seem like enough to me. It won’t be enough for Patrick Ryan, either, if he winds up getting convicted.

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One Comment

  1. William Hughes says:


    Newsday hasn’t told half of the story. The SI Advance website,, goes into further detail as to how bad the system was before the crash. Drinking, gambling, and an “old-boy” network for hiring crew members that may or may not have met residency requirements are just some of the problems the SI Ferry system had.

    All I can say is “Yikes!”