published Friday, May 16th, 2014

Fellow crew mate testifies in homicide trial of towboat captain in Chattanooga

Warren Luetke
Warren Luetke
Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Todd South updates

Prosecutors called to testify the relief captain of the Bearcat towboat that crashed into a local man's fishing boat in June 2010, killing two of the three men aboard.

Will Stevens was not at the helm when the crash occurred; he'd recently come off shift and was replaced by Warren Charles Luetke, 42, at about 5 p.m. on June 19.

Luetke faces two charges of criminally negligent homicide in the deaths of Richard Wilkey, 52, and Tim Spidle, 45, in the crash.

Stevens testified about why a towboat captain would use a lookout. Luetke was not using a lookout, a person stationed at the front of the barges to spot boats in the vessel's blindspot.

Maritime rules leave the use of a lookout to the discretion of the boat captain.

Today is the fourth day of the trial.

The prosecution is expected to conclude today. Defense attorney Sam Hudson hinted in his opening statements that he may call witnesses, but that could change if he and Luetke determine they do not need to present a defense.

Throughout the trial Hudson has noted that tests revealed Richard Wilkey and Spidle had blood alcohol levels more than twice the legal limit. David Wilkey and Spidle also had THC, the active component of marijuana, in their systems at the time of the crash.

David Wilkey testified Thursday that he never saw the nine-barge load until it was bearing down on his fishing boat 100 yards away.

For more see Saturday's Times Free Press.

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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