Prosecutor Asks Judge to Detain Boat Captain Charged with Negligent Death

Capt. Richard Smith is owner and captain of Cimmaron. (Facebook photo)
Capt. Richard Smith is owner and captain of Cimmaron. (Facebook photo)

A federal prosecutor is asking a judge to detain a St. John boat captain after he was charged with manslaughter in the death of a crew member.

According to court records, Capt. Richard Smith was indicted in July and charged under the seaman’s manslaughter statute. Smith is named as the captain and owner of the vessel Cimmaron, from which investigators said the victim jumped overboard during a voyage from Beaufort, North Carolina, to St. John in October 2015.

A grand jury indictment was filed under seal in the matter July 12.

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The captain is charged with violating United States Code, Title 18, Section 1115, which calls for fines or imprisonment when a wrongful act by a vessel’s captain, pilot, engineer results in loss of life.

Court records describe the Cimmaron as a privately owned boat commonly used for charter trips. The vessel left Beaufort Oct. 22, 215. The following day Pontius became seasick and dehydrated, eventually suffering hallucinations.

By Oct. 24, the situation was worsening. Documents said the crew member said he did not know where the vessel was going or who was on board. The next day Pontius got into a struggle with Smith before jumping overboard.

The grand jury pointed out in the indictment that Smith, as captain, was the responsible party on board at the time. Five citations of alleged negligence were included in the indictment, including failure to take required precaution; failure to stop and render assistance; failure to deploy a search and recovery pattern after Pontius went overboard; failure to mark the location where the crew member left the vessel and failure to make proper use of the marine radio on board.

An arrest warrant was executed Friday in the case. Smith was released on bail later that day.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sigrid Tejo-Sprotte filed a motion Sunday asking the U.S. Magistrate Ruth Miller detain the captain, pending future court appearances.

A hearing is set for 1:30 p.m. Monday in District Court at the Ron de Lugo Federal Building on St. Thomas.

If convicted on the charges of seaman’s manslaughter, the defendant faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

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