Court filing: FDNY fireboat pilot operated recklessly and caused fatal crash
The charter boat captain is asking a federal judge to clear him of all liability as investigations continue
By Thomas Tracy, John Annese
New York Daily News
NEW YORK — An FDNY fireboat skipper who crashed into a charter boat, killing a Belgian firefighter on board in New York Harbor this spring, acted recklessly and should be held liable for the death, according to a new court filing.
Edward Mattiace, the captain of the 36-foot private vessel dubbed The Honcho, is asking a federal judge to clear him of any liability in the crash that caused the death of Sgt. Johnny Beernaert, who was an unauthorized guest from Belgium aboard the Fire Department’s Marine 1 Bravo, a 31-foot rigid-hull inflatable fireboat, on June 17 at about 10 p.m.
Mattiace, who operates under the name New York City Boat Tours, did everything right when a still-unnamed firefighter took FDNY Marine 1 Bravo out for a high-speed joyride, and slammed into the charter vessel near Pier 11, according to the filing.
In court papers, lawyers for the captain maintain he was going about 5 mph southwest on the East River, “with his running, navigation, and all-around white mast lights on and functioning properly, while maintaining a proper lookout, and in full compliance of the Inland Rules of Navigation.”
It was the FDNY boat’s pilot who failed to follow the rules, by speeding, not having enough crew members or a proper lookout, and not having the proper lighting or navigation equipment.
The tour company accused whoever was piloting the FDNY boat of taking its four civilian passengers out on an unauthorized “harbor tour.”
Marine 1 Bravo was traveling northwest at a “high rate of speed and without all available navigation equipment” and “without the proper lighting being displayed,” according to the filing.
“Without any negligence on the part of the (Honcho), the Marine 1 Bravo “struck the Vessel on her portside bow at a high rate of speed of over 22 miles per hour in violation of the Inland Rules of Navigation,” the captain charges in court papers.
The Honcho’s six passengers were uninjured.
The FDNY boat was ferrying Beernaert and his wife, along with a retired FDNY firefighter and his wife.
Beernaert’s estate has filed a notice of claim to sue the city. New York City Boat Tours and Mattiace are asking for a judge’s order either clearing them of any liability for the crash, or limiting their liability to just $25,000 — the post-crash value of the Honcho.
The FDNY has not yet identified the on-duty firefighter at the helm of the boat, and as of Wednesday, the FDNY and Coast Guard’s investigations into the crash still hadn’t wrapped up, according to officials at both agencies.
The FDNY dry-docked three Marine 1 fire officers — a lieutenant, a captain and a battalion chief — afterward, pulling them from their regular duties and giving them administrative jobs within the Marine Unit.
Neither the firefighter on the boat, who the Fire Department says passed all drug and alcohol tests following the crash, nor his superiors have been hit with criminal or disciplinary charges as the Coast Guard continues its investigation.
Lawyers for the Beerneart estate and the tour boat company did not return messages seeking comment.
When asked for comment, a city Law Department spokesman said, “We’ll review the filing and respond accordingly.”
Last month, the FDNY announced it would no longer allow civilians to ride on fire boats unless the trip is approved by the department’s chief of fire operations.