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New York Ferry Captain Ordered to Appear in Court

October 25, 2003|From Newsday

NEW YORK — A federal judge on Friday issued an order that dials up the pressure on the captain of the ferry involved in last week's fatal crash.

Ferry Capt. Michael Gansas was ordered to appear in court to explain why he has not responded to a subpoena from investigators.

The National Transportation Safety Board has been rebuffed in its attempts to interview Gansas since the Oct. 15 crash that killed 10 passengers and injured dozens.

U.S. District Judge Frederic Block ordered Gansas and his lawyer to appear Nov. 5 or risk a contempt of court charge. Block's order came at the request of NTSB investigators and prosecutors with the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn.

Gansas, who has said he is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, is key to the investigation because he took over the controls of the boat immediately after the accident and is the only person who knows their position at the time of impact, said Marjorie Murtagh, director of the NTSB Office of Marine Safety, in court papers.

Meanwhile, the lawyer for another ferry crew member who was suspended for backing out of a meeting with city transportation officials declared that his client will appear Tuesday as long as his suspension is lifted.

Attorney Michael Chalos, a maritime specialist who is based in California, said ship's mate Robert Rush balked at making a statement when he arrived at a meeting with city authorities and was handed a letter stating that what he said could be used against him.

The move sparked three days of talks, ending Thursday when Chalos told transportation officials that his client would appear Tuesday but not before. At that time, transportation chief Iris Weinshall suspended Rush.

Under city rules, if Rush appears within eight days of the suspension, it will be lifted.

Rush is seen as a key figure in the investigation. Assistant Capt. Richard Smith remains hospitalized following a suicide attempt and has not been questioned.

Of a crew of 14, plus two maintenance workers, at least four people -- Rush, Gansas, Smith and an unidentified fourth person -- reportedly were on the bridge of the Andrew J. Barberi at some point during the trip.

Investigators have said that there was one other person besides Smith in the pilot house at the time of the crash.

Lawyers for Gansas and Smith did not return phone calls Friday.

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