published Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Hamilton County judge upholds denial of towboat pilot's request for diversion

A local judge denied the diversion request of a man charged with criminally negligent homicide in a 2010 crash between his towboat and a small fishing boat on the Tennessee River.

Charles Warren Luetke, 40, drove the towboat, which was pushing a 671-foot, 149-ton barge load at the time of the crash. Besides the criminally negligent homicide charges, he is accused of reckless operation of a boat and failure to render assistance.

Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman upheld prosecutor Cameron Williams' denial of pretrial diversion, which Luetke requested in November 2011.

Steelman asked Luetke's attorney, Samuel Hudson, to research whether he could file a pretrial appeal with the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals on the judge's decision before the next scheduled hearing in January.

Hudson said after the hearing that he would look at the issue and discuss it with his client.

Williams told Steelman he had not begun any negotiations with Hudson and his client, pending Wednesday's ruling.

Luetke's boat collided with a personal fishing boat that held Richard Wilkey, 52, of Soddy-Daisy, and Elizabethtown, Tenn., resident Tim Spidle, 45, both of whom died in the June 19, 2010, crash.

Wilkey's nephew, David "Chris" Wilkey, survived the wreck.

In December 2010, Serodino Inc., Luetke's employer at the time of the crash, filed paperwork in federal court seeking to limit its liability in the deaths.

David Wilkey and relatives of the dead men have challenged Serodino's filing. That case is scheduled for a federal civil trial on July 23, 2013.

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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