NEW CITY, N.Y. (AP) – The man accused of crashing a powerboat into a barge on the Hudson River, killing a bride-to-be and her fiance’s best man, told rescuers he’d been “drinking all day,” a prosecutor said Wednesday.
Rockland County Assistant District Attorney Stephen Moore made the disclosure during the arraignment of Jojo John, 35, of Nyack. John pleaded not guilty to all 18 counts against him, including vehicular manslaughter and operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The July crash, which occurred about 30 miles north of Manhattan, killed Lindsey Stewart of Piermont and Mark Lennon of Pearl River, both 30. Stewart’s wedding was two weeks away.
John and three others, including the groom-to-be, were injured. John suffered a fractured skull and fractured spine, defense attorney David Narain said Wednesday.
Prosecutors have said John had nearly twice the legal level of alcohol in his system when the boat crashed on the night of July 26 into a barge involved in the construction of a new Tappan Zee Bridge.
Moore told Judge William Kelly that right after the crash, John “indicated `it was my fault’ and `I’ve been drinking all day’ … or words to that effect,” while talking with first responders.
Narain said outside court, “This is the first time we’re hearing those statements,” and he would not answer further questions about them.
But he has disputed the toxicology findings and continued to argue, both in court and outside, that drinking did not cause the crash.
“The cause of this accident was not intoxication or impairment,” Narain said. “The cause of this accident was a lack of lights on those barges in the Hudson River.”
He said complaints had been made about the lighting before the crash and “no corrective measures were ever taken.”
Also Wednesday, Stewart’s and Lennon’s families filed lawsuits making the same claim.
The lawsuits say the deaths could have been prevented if the barge owners had heeded warnings. It names several companies involved in the Tappan Zee construction. But it also names John, as co-owner of the boat, and says he was careless and negligent.
John’s civil lawyer, James Mercante, said the barge lighting was to blame and said he would seek “complete exoneration” for John under admiralty law.
The Coast Guard and the state Thruway Authority, which is building the bridge, have said the barge was properly lighted. However, the Thruway Authority added lighting after the crash.
The judge imposed $25,000 cash bail on John, who had been free without bail. The judge said he expected John to make bail with the help of friends and relatives, several of whom were in the courtroom.
John is due back in court on Jan. 3.
If convicted of manslaughter, he could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.
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