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Tug Boat Pilot In Deadly Duck Boat Crash Gets One Year In Prison

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(A barge pushed by a tug boat bears down on a disabled duck boat in the Delaware River just before the fatal collision in July 2010.  NTSB photo)

(A barge pushed by a tug boat bears down on a disabled duck boat in the Delaware River just before the fatal collision in July 2010. NTSB photo)

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The man at the helm of a tug boat and barge that ran over a duck boat in the Delaware River last summer was sentenced to a year and a day in prison for his role in the deadly incident.

In addition to the prison time, Matthew Devlin received three years of supervised release.

Both Devlin, the tug’s mate who was at the controls, and his wife Corinne took the stand Tuesday. Devlin was facing a federal manslaughter charge for the accident which killed two Hungarian students aboard the duck boat: Dora Schwendter, 16, and Szabolcs Prem, 20.

Prosecutors began by running a video which shows the collision between the duck boat and barge last July 7 off Penn’s Landing.

“Mr. Devlin is the causation of this accident,” said assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Zauzmer. “The captain [of the duck boat] just did not believe he was going to get run over by a barge.”

Prosecutors were pushing for as much as three to four years of prison time according to federal sentencing guidelines, but Devlin’s attorney, Frank DeSimone argued for a much lighter sentence.

Tony Hanson reports…

Through tears, Devlin’s wife pleaded for leniency from the judge.

“You’re here to punish Matthew, but Matthew is punishing himself everyday. He’s so sorry, and we are sorry,” she said. “I am begging for mercy for my husband … Our children are so little.”

Matthew Devlin cried intermittently during his wife’s testimony and broke down at times during the hour he spent on the stand.

The morning of the accident, Devlin’s five year old son was undergoing routine eye surgery in Albany. However, he experienced complications including a laryngospasm– which led to partial oxygen deprivation for eight minutes.

Devlin’s wife says she panicked and called her husband, who was at the controls of the tug at the time. He said the incident distracted him so severely, his legs went numb.

“I was very upset,” he told the judge. “I felt weak and helpless … I just asked her ‘What does that mean? You have to find out.’ … I thought he [my son] was going to be brain dead.”

“I shouldn’t have called him. I shouldn’t have called him on the phone,” Corinne Devlin said. “I’m so sorry everyday that I called him, but that’s just the person that he is. He loves his kids so much, he goes into a panic.”

Matthew Devlin says he moved from the tug’s upper wheelhouse, where he had much better visibility, to its lower wheelhouse so he could better hear telephone conversations with his wife and parents. He also turned down the ship’s radios so he missed several mayday calls from the stranded duck.

Initially, Matthew Devlin said he felt “partly” responsible for the accident but backtracked under pressure from the judge.

“I want the court to know that in no way do I not feel responsible for the deaths of these two children,” he said. “I look at my own children and could never imagine not having them.”

Then he spoke directly to the parents of the victims, listening by telephone from Hungary: “There isn’t a day I will ever forget your children.”

Before issuing his sentence, Judge Legrome Davis told Devlin that he believed he was a good man and that this was a hard case.

“I am, on a human level, very sad that you’re here,” Davis told Devlin. “I think you have personally punished yourself in many ways.”

But “there has to be a consequence for behavior,” the judge said. “I just think that you should have stepped away. You could have stepped away.”

The judge said he understood Devlin’s mindset in the moments leading up to the accident but that it doesn’t completely excuse his behavior.

I “just can’t understand from your perspective, turning the ship’s radios down,” the judge said. “Everybody knew this [the accident] was happening but you.”

The prison sentence of one year and one day makes Devlin eligible for early release with good behavior, so it’s possible he could be home in ten or 11 months. The judge said he will request for Devlin to serve the sentence at the closest federal prison to his home in upstate New York. Both Frank DeSimone, Devlin’s defense attorney, and Robert Zauzmer, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case, said the judge’s sentence seemed fair.

“Judge Davis had a very difficult decision to make, and we’re satisfied he struck the appropriate balance in imposing prison,” Zaumer said.

DeSimone said he will not advise his client to appeal.

“The events are tragic. Nobody is going to be content with the sentence,” he said. “This case is so tragic, you can’t be content with anything.”

Reported by Ben Simmoneau, CBS 3

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