published Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Chattanooga area lawyer for tugboat operator wants further review of diversion request

Charles Warren Luetke, left, and attorney Samuel Hudson walk away from the bench of Judge Barry Steelman.
Charles Warren Luetke, left, and attorney Samuel Hudson walk away from the bench of Judge Barry Steelman.
Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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The attorney for a 40-year-old tugboat operator charged in the death of two fishermen wants the prosecutor to reconsider pre-trial diversion for his client.

Charles Warren Luetke faces two charges of criminally negligent homicide, reckless operation of a boat and not rendering assistance after the line of barges his tugboat was pushing on the Tennessee River collided with a fishing boat that contained three men.

Richard Wilkey, 52, of Soddy-Daisy, and Elizabethton, Tenn., resident Tim Spidle, 45, died in the June 19, 2010 incident. Richard Wilkey’s nephew, David “Chris” Wilkey, survived the crash.

Luetke’s attorney, Samuel Hudson, of Dunlap, Tenn., had asked for judicial diversion for his client, who already has pleaded not guilty. Judicial diversion allows defendants without lengthy criminal records to avoid a trial and commit to community service, restitution or other probationary measures. Charges are then dismissed after the probation period.

Hamilton County Assistant District Attorney Cameron Williams refused to consider diversion and, in the Thursday hearing, Hudson told Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman that Williams had not considered the diversion request adequately.

Steelman said Hudson should file his objection by April 2 so the judge could review it before the next scheduled court date on May 3. There has not been a trial date set in the case.

Williams declined to comment on a pending case.

Luetke drove the Bearcat tugboat for Chattanooga-based Serodino Inc.

David Wilkey and relatives of the deceased men sued the barge company for more than $15 million in federal court on Dec. 17, 2010. U.S. District Judge Harry “Sandy” Mattice set the trial for Aug. 2, 2012.

Drug tests revealed that all three men were under the influence of alcohol, marijuana or both.

Chris Wilkey told the Chattanooga Times Free Press in a February 2011 interview that he “might have smoked a joint the night before” the boat wreck but he didn’t have any intoxicants the day of the incident.

Serodino filed court documents in December 2010, seeking to limit its liability to $1 million in the case. In the documents, Serodino said the deaths were “not caused or contributed to by any fault or neglect” of the company.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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