N.Y. boat crash victims' families say booze not a factor

Lindsey Stewart and Mark Lennon

NEW YORKThe families of a bride-to-be and best man killed in a boating accident on the Hudson River Friday have spoken out for the first time since the tragic crash.

Lindsey Stewart and Mark Lennon, both 30, were with other members of the wedding party, including groom-to-be Brian Bond, 35, when their boat struck a barge in place for the Tappan Zee Bridge reconstruction project late Friday night.

Lindsey Stewart, Mark Lennon
Lindsey Stewart and Mark Lennon

Four others were injured, including Bond. Stewart and Lennon were thrown off the boat.

When the bodies were found, they did not have life vests on, Sheriff's Department Chief William Barbera told CBS News station WCBS in New York.

Stewart's mother Carol Stewart-Kosik, stepfather Walter Kosik and Lennon's parents Kevin and Dympna Lennon said in a statement (PDF) Wednesday. The statement says in part:

"Our families are shattered by the horrible accident that took the lives of Lindsey Stewart and Mark Lennon and seriously injured and devastated so many others.

"Compounding our agony is the rush, by some, to cast blame on or even malign the victims. While police have issued serious charges against the boat's driver, toxicology results supporting those charges will not be available for days."

The families say in the statement the passengers on the boat "consumed very little alcohol and considered themselves sober." It adds that none of the passengers saw the barge they struck.

The families are asking for help from boaters familiar with those waters.

"We will never understand why this happened, but we do seek to understand exactly what happened that horrible night. To do that, we have a specific request of boaters who have firsthand knowledge of the barges our loved ones struck: If you were out on the water, on or before the night of Friday, July 26, and have knowledge of the barges or the accident conditions, please share your information with us by sending an email to darkbarges@gmail.com."

The families express gratitude to the first responders, before concluding the statement by saying:

"We are devastated by the irreparable damage that has been done to the lives of so many. None of our lives will ever be the same.

"Thank you for keeping our families - and the families of all those affected by this accident - in your prayers."

Also on Wednesday, new details emerged about the emergency response to the crash.

Calls between dispatchers and emergency responders reveal rescue crews and survivors aboard the boat had some trouble spotting each other in the dark.

The calls show it took roughly 12 minutes for crews to find the stranded boat after it crashed into a construction barge near the Tappan Zee Bridge.

It's unclear which of the survivors called 911. Bond and the other survivors all suffered serious head injuries, which apparently made communicating difficult.

Undated photo of Jojo John
CBS New York via NYPD

Police said the boat was being operated by Jojo John, 35, whom investigators suspect was intoxicated. He has been charged with vehicular manslaughter and vehicular assault.

The Rockland County District Attorney's Office said it is seeking more serious charges in the case and are waiting for the results of a toxicology report.

"The investigation into this tragic accident will be detailed and complete, including survivor and witness interviews and a thorough analysis of evidence," District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said in a statement.

Autopsies determined Stewart died from both drowning and severe head injuries and that Lennon also drowned. Stewart was to marry Bond on Aug. 10.

Her wake is scheduled for Wednesday. Stewart's funeral will be Thursday. Lennon's wake is set for Thursday, and his funeral will be Friday.

While the victims' families face a heart wrenching farewell, at least two of the survivors have hired attorneys to file possible lawsuits against the operators of the barge.

The U.S. Coast Guard said Monday that the barge was equipped with the required lights. But several frequent boaters said they thought the required lighting was insufficient.

A spokesman for the $3.9 billion bridge project also said the barges were properly lit Friday night, but lighting has since been added.

"Tappan Zee Constructors reported to the Thruway Authority that all Coast Guard lighting requirements were met and that the barges were properly lit Friday night," said Brian Conybeare, special advisor to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for the project.

Investigators have been looking at the boat's speed, as well as tide and weather conditions. The Rockland County Sheriff's Office said the barge's lighting would also be part of the investigation.