published Friday, June 25th, 2010

Barge company involved in another water fatality

by Chris Carroll
Audio clip

Glenn Moates

A fishing boat accident that killed two men Saturday marked the second time in a year that a Chattanooga company’s barges were involved in a fatality.

Federal court documents show that barges owned by Serodino Inc. of Chattanooga ran over an anchored boat carrying three fishermen on Watts Bar Lake in Loudon County, Tenn., on June 26, 2009.

The accident happened about 2:30 a.m. as the men slept inside a boat anchored within the lake’s navigation channel. The collision’s force threw the men from the boat, and Jones Bower Bare, 53, of Trap Hill, N.C., died from injuries, documents show.

A Serodino tugboat called the Bearcat was pushing the barges in the Watts Bar collision — the same boat that was moving a nine-barge load that slammed Saturday into a fishing boat occupied by three fishermen on the Tennessee River, according to documents.

Soddy-Daisy native Richard Wilkey, 52, and Tim Spidle, 45, of Elizabethton, Tenn., died in the collision. David “Christopher” Wilkey, 37, survived the crash and told investigators that the men didn’t see the barges until they were 100 yards away.

Representatives from Serodino and their attorneys declined to comment.

Violations brought against Serodino and the fishermen in the Watts Bar case were presented to a grand jury, which declined to press criminal charges on both sides. The U.S. Coast Guard’s investigation is ongoing.

U.S. Coast Guard navigational rules state that all boaters are required to post a lookout — a key factor in both collision. The rule applies to boats regardless of whether they’re anchored or moving.

According to a Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency investigation into the Watts Bar incident, the Serodino tugboat operator failed to keep a proper lookout and never issued a warning signal to prevent the collision.

The company faces the same scrutiny after Saturday’s deaths.

“If operators don’t have adequate visibility in the pilot house, they need to post someone on the front of the barge who can assess the surroundings,” said Glenn Moates, the assistant chief of boating for Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

In the Watts Bar incident, the three fishermen also broke rules against anchoring in a navigational channel and failing to keep an adequate lookout, investigators said.

The wife of Mr. Bare has filed a civil wrongful death lawsuit against Serodino. The case awaits a scheduling conference before settlement or trial, court records show.

According to a complaint filed by Serodino after they received notice of the impending civil lawsuit from Mr. Bare’s widow, her husband’s death was “not caused or contributed to by any fault or neglect of Serodino.”

The complaint accuses William Bare, the deceased man’s brother and fishing boat owner, of “careless and unsafe” operation of the fishing boat, adding that he “negligently failed to stay awake” as the barge approached.

The complaint allowed the company to limit potential civil damages to the price of the vessel without cargo. Serodino valued the empty Bearcat at $1.1 million, court records show.

The Bare family contested that amount, filing an answer to Serodino’s complaint and the wrongful death civil suit, asking for $5 million in compensatory damages.

The lawsuit requests “punitive damages in an amount sufficient to punish Serodino and to make an example of Serodino and to deter others from similar conduct.”

The lawsuit also says the Bearcat was “manned by an incompetent and poorly trained crew” that failed to keep the tugboat under proper control, incorrectly used radar equipment and never gave a sound or visual warning to the fishermen before collision.

Continue reading by following these links to related stories:

Article: Anglers too late in barge response

Article: Cause of fatal river collision still uncertain

Article: Barge, fishing boat collision probed as victim sought

Article: Weekend water accidents deadly

Article: Health officials warn of summer drowning danger

Article: Rules of the waterways

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dave said...

It is a widely known fact that you need to watch for and stay clear of the barges as they WILL NOT stop or alter course to avoid a collision. They do have a great deal of mass.

June 25, 2010 at 10:37 a.m.
mrredskin said...

lawsuits? really? because 3 people slept in the middle of the channel??? the river is wide enough for them to move towards the shore

June 25, 2010 at 11:28 a.m.
altavista said...

I don't know about you guys but I'd sue the hell out of any barge company that didn't think it important enough to have a lookout in the process of running over a loved one. They didn't even blow a horn.

June 25, 2010 at 11:42 a.m.
harrystatel said...

Boat vs. Barge is like the Bicycle vs. Car situation. All the safety equipment, life vests, running lights, legal "rights" and everything else mean nothing without common sense.

This was completely avoidable by the fishermen. Depending on the "other" fellow to be responsible is often deadly, as it was in this case.

There's nothing to indicate the barge was outside of its lane of traffic. The fishermen were not paying attention and using common sense. This incident is similar to fishing below generating dams. Boats are swamped and people drown because of a lack of common sense.

I'm sorry for the families of all involved for such a senseless loss of life.

June 25, 2010 at 12:53 p.m.
Riverboater said...

I can only speak to the Watts Bar incident, but whoever said the barge could just swing wide does not know what they are talking about. At that point, coming downstream you make a starboard turn just after passing under a bridge where the only navigable channel takes you over to the left descending bank. When you come through there, if there was someone who was foolish enough to: 1. Anchor in the channel, 2. Do so at 2:30 in the morning needs their head read. The towboat has just as good visibility forward from the raised pilothouse as they do the front of the barge. After you pop out from under the bridge, even seeing the little fishing boat (assuming it carried the required anchor light on, which I bet it did not) anchored where maritime law says you must not, there would be darn little the barge could do at that point. Radar could not help at that point, as the bridge return swamps/blinds any return from a little fiberglass boat. I hate to say it, but anyone who is irresponsible enough to anchor there almost deserves what they get. How normal is it to be anchored in a little fishing boat at 2:30 in the morning in the middle of a difficult channel when there is lots of shallower area (but still deep enough for a fishing boat) available right beside that area.

February 13, 2011 at 4:40 p.m.
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