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Prosecutors: Tugboat skipper agrees to plea in fatal 'duck boat' crash

By Sarah Hoyes, CNN
The Delaware River crash plunged the amphibious vessel, its 35 passengers and two crew members underwater.
The Delaware River crash plunged the amphibious vessel, its 35 passengers and two crew members underwater.
  • Two tourists from Hungary died in the July 2010 accident
  • The pilot of a tugboat involved has agreed to plead guilty to a charge, prosecutors say
  • A barge being towed by the tugboat hit a sightseeing "duck boat"
  • The NTSB cited the pilot's use of his cell phone and computer as "the deadliness of distraction"

Philadelphia (CNN) -- The pilot of a tugboat towing a barge that crashed into a sightseeing "duck boat" -- killing two tourists -- intends to plead guilty to a charge stemming from the July 2010 accident, federal prosecutors said Thursday

Matthew R. Devlin, 35, of Catskill, New York, has agreed to plead guilty to one count of misconduct of a ship operator causing death, according to a statement from the office of the U.S. attorney for eastern Pennsylvania. He also will surrender his shipıs mate license, the statement said.

Devlin could be sentenced to up to 46 months in prison, the statement said. No sentencing date was given. The plea agreement closes the case, the statement said.

Two tourists from Hungary -- one 16 years old, the other 20 -- died when a 250-foot sludge barge towed by the tugboat overran a disabled 33-foot "Ride the Ducks" tour boat on the Delaware River, plunging the amphibious vessel and its 35 passengers and two crew members underwater.

According to National Transportation Safety Board findings, tugboat pilot Devlin made and received 21 cell phone calls in addition to surfing the web using a company laptop during his more than two hours at the wheel.

The NTSB released its final report on June 21.

The incident was "another tragic example of the deadliness of distraction," Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the NTSB, said after the final report showed several people involved were on the cell phones or computers.

After the accident, Devlin initially told his superiors and the Coast Guard that he was dealing with a serious family medical emergency involving his 6-year-old son.

The sightseeing duck boat was anchored in the shipping channel after being shut down because the boat's operator saw smoke and feared an on-board fire.

Lawyers who represented the families of the two victims released a statement Thursday saying the families "are gratified that Federal prosecutors have acted to hold one of the responsible parties accountable in this tragedy that should have been avoided."

The statement from attorneys Robert J. Mongeluzzi, Andrew Duffy, Peter Ronai and Holly Ostrov Ronai added that the families "expect the corporations who were involved to acknowledge their roles and act accordingly." The statement did not elaborate.