Feds announce own probe of New York ferry crash
NEW YORK (CNN) – Federal prosecutors said Wednesday they are starting a criminal investigation into the October 15 Staten Island ferry crash that killed 10 people and injured dozens more.
Already, the Staten Island district attorney, the National Transportation Safety Board and the New York City Department of Transportation are investigating the accident. A congressional probe is in the works.
The U.S. Attorney's office opened the investigation to "fulfill the federal government's significant responsibility to protect the safety of the millions who travel on New York's waterways each year, U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf of the Eastern District of New York said.
"We will apply the full resources of the United States government to follow the facts and determine if there is criminal liability, and if so, we will hold those involved accountable for their conduct," Mauskopf said.
An estimated 1,500 passengers were aboard the Andrew J. Barbieri when it crashed into a concrete pier October 15 on Staten Island.
Also Wednesday, as hundreds gathered at the crash site to honor the victims, at least 24 survivors of the ferry crash said they plan to sue the city of New York for damages.
The survivors have filed notices of claim with the city comptroller's office -- a step required within 90 days of an incident before a lawsuit can be filed.
"They're seeking just and adequate compensation for injuries ranging from amputations to psychological trauma," said plaintiffs' attorney Tony Bisignano of Bosco, Bisignano & Mascolo, a personal injury firm that represents more than half the potential claimants.
No families of those killed have so far indicated an intention to sue.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg Wednesday honored the 10 people killed in the crash at an interfaith memorial service at the docking station where the accident occurred.
"Every New Yorker knows the heart of Staten Island is in pain. Each of us knows for each grieving family your sorrow has no bounds," Bloomberg said to the several hundred people who attended the ceremony. The event ended with the tossing of a wreath into the bay.
The NTSB has focused its probe on Richard Smith, the ferry's assistant captain.
Smith, 55, was piloting the vessel before it slammed into the pier at full throttle. He may have passed out, possibly due to a medical condition.
Bisignano said one of his clients, Steven Parker, told investigators that he saw Smith flee the accident scene.
Smith remains hospitalized from what law enforcement sources said were wounds sustained in a suicide attempt after the accident.
In a statement Wednesday, Smith's attorneys said Smith passed out while at the ferry wheel. He is being tested to find out why, his attorneys said in a statement.
NTSB investigators have said they also want to question the ferry's captain, Michael Gansas, about his whereabouts.
Regulations call for both the captain and assistant captain to be in the pilothouse when the boat is moving.
Gansas has avoided a subpoena for an interview, citing his own trauma and doctors' orders to avoid stress. He has been ordered to appear November 5 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York for questioning.
The New York City Department of Transportation suspended Gansas and a mate, Robert Rush, without pay for failing to cooperate with officials investigating the crash.
Safety board spokesman Terry Williams said investigators are waiting to interview several crew members, passengers and other witnesses. More than 40 already have been questioned.
U.S. Rep. Vito Fossella, R-New York, who represents Staten Island and part of Brooklyn, said a House subcommittee will hold a field hearing on the accident Tuesday.
The Staten Island district attorney also is investigating the accident. District Attorney William Murphy began issuing subpoenas for documents and records last week.
The damaged ship, the 310-foot Andrew Barbieri, is now stationed at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, in need of $8 million in repairs, according to the NTSB.
CNN Producers Phil Hirschkorn and Dana Garrett contributed to this report.