Barge company involved in another water fatality

Barge company involved in another water fatality

June 25th, 2010 by Chris Carroll and Kate Harrison Belz in News

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.

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