Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Company Ordered to Pay $19.2 Million for Accident; Eight Injured in Crash Awarded for Barge Crash; Judge Rebuffs Allegations Captain Was Drunk

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Company Ordered to Pay $19.2 Million for Accident; Eight Injured in Crash Awarded for Barge Crash; Judge Rebuffs Allegations Captain Was Drunk

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL PINKHAM, The Times-Union

A Jacksonville construction company was ordered Monday to pay $19.2 million to eight people injured when the boat they were on slammed into a dimly lit barge in the Cedar River three years ago.

U.S. District Judge Harvey E. Schlesinger said Superior Construction Co. was entirely to blame for the collision for inadequately lighting the 128-foot "black invisible" barge and improperly placing it and a tugboat in the channel beneath the Blanding Boulevard bridge. He said the company never notified the U.S. Coast Guard, which could have warned boaters it was there.

"The locations and lighting of the barge and the tug fell far below even the lowest safety requirements," Schlesinger wrote in a sweeping 48-page order released late Monday afternoon. "The barge was in the shadow of the bridge and visually disappeared into the darkness below the bridge line. . . . No one from Superior checked the visibility of the tug and the barge from the water."

Superior officials and the company's lawyer couldn't be reached for comment Monday. They had argued at the trial in May that the boat's pilot, Charles Brock, was to blame because he'd been drinking, but Schlesinger found no merit in that claim.

"Others who were looking ahead and who had not been drinking . . . did not see the barge either," the judge wrote. He said Brock's speed of 22 mph wasn't excessive.

Brock and his passengers, mostly relatives, were on the river to look at Christmas lights Dec. 29, 2001, when the collision occurred just before 7 p.m. Several people were thrown off his 25-foot Bilinear pleasure boat into the frigid water. Brock and eight of his passengers were injured.

The most seriously hurt was family matriarch Betty Wright, who was left with "catastrophic" leg damage and hasn't been able to stand on her own since the accident, her attorneys said. …

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