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Two Charged With Manslaughter for Illegal Charter Accident

Capsized boat stimulus money
Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

Published Mar 10, 2024 1:45 PM by The Maritime Executive

The operators of an unlicensed charter boat face charges of seaman's manslaughter in connection with the deaths of two passengers in a capsizing in 2022, the Coast Guard announced Friday, and could be sent to prison for up to 10 years if convicted.

Richard Cruz and Jaeme Pinella Gomez were the owners and operators of Stimulus Money, a small speedboat that they operated as a for-hire passenger tour vessel. Neither had a merchant mariners' credential, and they did not have a COI for the boat. 

On July 12, 2022, Stimulus Money departed the pier with 13 people on board for a tour on the Hudson. The number of passengers exceeded the boat's rated capacity. According to federal prosecutors, Gomez was not experienced and "piloted Stimulus Money in a dangerous manner." At about 1440 hours, he rapidly increased the throttle for one of the engines, and the boat capsized. Gomez was not wearing an auto-shutoff lanyard, so the engine continued to run. 

All 13 people aboard were thrown into the water, and 11 survivors were rescued by the NYPD, FDNY and good samaritan vessels. The other two - a seven-year-old boy and his aunt, 48 - drowned underneath the boat. The FDNY Dive Rescue Team recovered the victims at about 1445 hours. 

Cruz and Gomez are being charged each with one count of misconduct and neglect of ship officer resulting in death, which carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison.

The U.S. Coast Guard investigated the case and passed it over to the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York for prosecution. Charges were revealed last week. 

“We offer our deepest condolences to those affected by this tragic accident,” said Capt. Zeita Merchant, Captain of the Port of New York. “We can’t stress enough how important it is for owners and operators to know your vessel’s limits and how to safely navigate the waters where you are operating. It is just as important for passengers to understand and ensure those requirements placed upon vessel operators for credentialling are in place before getting underway.”