Coast Guard probe of boating fatality off Watch Hill continues

Coast Guard probe of boating fatality off Watch Hill continues

Record-Journal

STONINGTON — The $300 in fines assessed to the captain of a 60-foot yacht that collided with Walter Krupinski’s 23-foot boat doesn’t sit well with Krupinski’s widow Peggy.

“These $100 fines just don’t cut it with me. My husband died,” Krupinski said. “Hopefully the Coast Guard or the Justice Department can do something more.”

Cooper Bacon, 76, of New Jersey was found guilty March 27 of violating three Coast Guard navigation rules resulting in the Sept. 22, 2015, death of Krupinski, 81. Bacon is licensed as a captain by the U.S. Coast Guard. Each of the violations — improper navigation or failure to have a lookout, failure to take action to avoid a collision and improper overtaking of another vessel — carries a maximum $100 fine.

The case was heard in Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal, based on how state law is written. Although she said she was pleased that Magistrate Domenic A. DiSandro III said her husband was not at fault and found Bacon guilty of charges by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s Division of Law Enforcement, she has hopes that the Department of Justice or Coast Guard will take additional enforcement measures in the coming months.

Bacon was piloting the larger vessel between boat shows in Rhode Island and Connecticut when he collided with Krupinski’s center console outboard. The Stonington resident, who was a commercial rod and reel fisherman, was fishing off Watch Hill Reef and had decided to head home for the day when the collision occurred, resulting in Krupinski’s death.

Dawn Kallen, chief of the U.S. Coast Guard Investigations Division, attended Bacon’s four-day trial. She said her division’s investigation into the collision is not done yet and Bacon has refused to speak with Coast Guard officials, which has made the process lengthy and more difficult.

At the scene of the incident, Bacon refused to speak without his lawyer present. The Coast Guard later made requests to speak with him and his lawyers, but those requests were denied, Kallen said.

“Being there for the trial was helpful in the sense that it was the first time I’d ever heard Cooper Bacon speak about the accident,” she said. “Other than give us basic identification information, he has refused to answer any of our questions.”

Enforcement options available to the Coast Guard in such matters include civil penalties and suspension of Coast Guard-issued licenses.

Last year, Hallen’s division referred the case to the U.S. Department of Justice for the District of Rhode Island.

Jim Martin, public information officer for the department, said there is no additional information or updates available at this time.

In regard to the $300 maximum penalty, Amy Kempe, public information officer for state Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin, said that as is standard with all fatalities on both Rhode Island roadways and waterways, the attorney general’s office reviewed the investigation. Kempe said Kilmartin’s office agreed with the DEM findings.

“Subsequent to that determination, the office was notified by legal counsel for Mr. Krupinski’s widow that, upon request, the United States Coast Guard would conduct its own investigation into the accident,” she said. “The state will review the findings by the Coast Guard at the conclusion of its investigation.”

According to Kempe, Rhode Island does not have a specific manslaughter charge for either motor vehicles or vessels, rather the law that covers such cases with either automobiles or boats falls under the “driving so as to endanger, death resulting” statute. The law indicates that if a death results from injuries sustained by the operation of any vessel in reckless disregard of the safety of others, the person operating the vessel shall be guilty of “operating so as to endanger, resulting in death.” The standard for both motor vehicles and vessels is the same, as is the maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Kempe expressed sympathy for Krupinski’s family on behalf of Kilmartin and his office.

“We recognize that no words or actions can bring her beloved husband back, and it is our hope she can have confidence in the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of the investigation by state officials,” Kempe said.

bwhite@thewesterlysun.com


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