Hudson Tragedy

BY BILL DEMAREST

Photo of the late Lindsey Stewart, bride-to-be killed in Piermont boating tragedy
Photo of the late Lindsey Stewart, bride-to-be killed in Piermont boating tragedy

As funeral arrangements are being prepared for the victims, additional charges are being considered against the Nyack man who drove the boat in the Friday night, July 26 double fatal accident on the Hudson River near the Tappan Zee Bridge, according to the Rockland County district attorney.

The incident, which stunned residents of Rockland’s riverfront communities and instantly became a tragedy of national interest, immediately put focus on the safety of construction barges for the new Tappan Zee Bridge and on the issue of boating safety.

District Attorney Thomas Zugibe says his office is working with the Rockland County Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement agencies in an investigation of the crash that killed bride-to-be Lindsey Stewart, 30, of Piermont and Mark Lennon, 30, of Pearl River, who was to be the best man at Stewart’s wedding in August.

Jojo K. John, 35, of 37G Gail Drive, Nyack, has been charged with vehicular manslaughter and vehicular assault by the Rockland County Sheriff’s Department. He was the driver of a 19-foot powerboat that struck a barge stationed on the river for the construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge. John, who was also injured in the crash, is accused of being intoxicated while he was driving the boat and was arraigned at Nyack Hospital on Saturday with bail set for him at $250,000.

“The investigation into this tragic accident will be detailed and complete, including survivor and witness interviews and thorough analysis of evidence,” said Zugibe, who noted his office is seeking upgraded charges against John.

Zugibe said the investigation is awaiting results of State Police toxicology tests and autopsies by the Rockland County Medical Examiner’s Office, which confirmed on Monday that Stewart and Lennon both died of drowning.

A Rockland County grand jury will be reviewing the incident and charges against John.

As part of the investigation, Sheriff’s Department investigators on Monday were on the river trying to recreate the accident and learn more about what happened.

The boat crash took place about 10:40 p.m. on Friday near the Tappan Zee Bridge. John had five passengers in the boat, including Stewart, her husband-to-be Brian Bond, and Lennon. Rescuers including Piermont and Nyack volunteer firefighters had a tough time finding the wrecked boat in the dark on the river, with emergency dispatchers relaying information and GPS coordinates as they were in touch with injured victims via cell phone.

When firefighters reached the boat, they found four survivors. Stewart’s body was discovered in the river on Saturday and Lennon’s body was recovered on Sunday.

The accident prompted questions about whether the construction barge involved was properly lit. On Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard said a review by the agency has determined the barges used by Tappan Zee Constructors for the bridge project have the legally-required lighting.

In the wake of Friday’s accident, Nyack Fire Chief James Weck said he expects there will be other incidents on the river related to the construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge as work continues.

“We’ll never see another project of this size and magnitude in our lifetimes,” Weck said. “Unfortunately, this won’t be the last serious accident that we’ll see out there.”

Nyack and Piermont volunteers are the first-responders to river-related incidents in the area of the Tappan Zee Bridge. The Rockland County Sheriff’s Department has a marine unit, however, it is based in Stony Point.

State Sen. David Carlucci, D-New City, said the scope of Friday night’s tragedy goes well beyond Rockland County.

“Every New Yorker has been affected by this unimaginable loss,” said Carlucci. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the families of those involved in this devastating boating tragedy.”

Carlucci said steps need to be taken to ensure there is not a repeat of such an incident on the Hudson River.

“It is clear that more education and public awareness is sorely needed,” Carlucci said. “Mandatory boat safety education will go along way toward informing boat operators and their passengers about the importance of safe operating procedures on New York’s waterways.”

Carlucci called for Gov. Mario Cuomo sign new comprehensive boating safety legislation into law.

“New York must get serious about making sure that boaters understand the proper rules, regulations, and procedures of operating these powerful machines,” Carlucci said. “This includes strengthening our (boating while intoxicated) laws and enforcing stronger punishments for those who consume alcohol and operate a vessel. Commuter safety does not end on paved roadways.”

A funeral service for Lindsey Stewart is set for 10:30 a.m. Thursday at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Pearl River. Arrangements are being handled by Wyman-Fisher Funeral Home, Pearl River.

Stewart, a 2000 graduate of Pearl River High School, was scheduled to be married in August. She had worked as a human resources manager at Presidential Life in Nyack.