published Monday, May 19th, 2014

Jury finds captain not guilty in trial of 2010 towboat deaths

  • photo
    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.

A Hamilton County jury has found a 42-year-old towboat captain not guilty in the deaths of two local fishermen in a 2010 crash.

Charles Warren Luetke was charged with two counts of criminally negligent homicide, reckless operation of a boat and failure to render assistance for the June 19, 2010, crash that killed Richard Wilkey, 52, of Soddy-Daisy and Tim Spidle, 45, of Elizabethton, Tenn.

David "Chris" Wilkey, 41, survived the crash and testified during the trial last week that he never saw the 105-foot wide, 21-foot tall, 675-foot long towboat, nine barge combination until it was 100 yards from his 16-foot fishing boat.

David Wilkey's boat wouldn't start and the trio could not get out of the way.

Luetke did not have a posted lookout at the front of his boat but maritime regulations do not require a lookout. That decision is left to the captain, multiple witnesses testified.

The trial began May 13 in Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman's courtroom. Testimony concluded Friday evening. Jurors heard closing arguments this morning before reaching their verdict.

For more see Tuesday'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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