Tug Boat Pilot Goes to Prison for Duck Boat Accident

Tug boat pilot from the July 2010 deadly duck boat crash begins his prison sentence

The tug boat pilot who was on his cell phone for a family emergency when the barge he was steering crashed into a stalled duck boat filled with tourists started his prison sentence Thursday afternoon, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Matthew Devlin of Catskill, N.Y., pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in August and was sentenced in November to one year and a day in federal prison. He is serving his term at Fort Dix.

The guilty plea and the sentencing stem from the death of two Hungarian students, 16-year-old Dora Schwendtner and 20-year-old Szabolcs Prem, who were on the duck boat, and killed in the July 7, 2010 crash.

“I wish that I could take it all back,” Matt Devlin said in court when he pleaded guilty last year. “I just wasn’t thinking clearly after getting the news.”

“The news” Devlin was referring to was that his 5-year-old son went eight minutes without oxygen during routine eye surgery that day, and Devlin, while acting as pilot, was on his cell phone with family after learning the news.

The 35-year-old Devlin was charged with misconduct of a ship operator causing death, a maritime offense that authorities describe as the equivalent of involuntary manslaughter.

The deadly crash occurred after the duck boat stalled in the busy shipping channel. As it sat anchored, awaiting help, the barge began bearing down, and its tug operator didn't respond to distress calls, authorities said.

In the minutes before the crash, Devlin repeatedly made and received calls on his cellphone, surfed the Internet for medical information and moved to a lower wheelhouse for more privacy -- putting the stalled duck boat in his blind spot, according to a report by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The crash sent all 37 people on the duck boat into the river, but 16-year-old Dora Schwendtner and 20-year-old Szabolcs Prem did not resurface. The Hungarians were visiting the United States through a church exchange program.

Contact Us