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St. John Boat Pilot Charged With Manslaughter in Death of Crew Member Pontius


CRUZ BAY – A St. John man was arrested today and charged in the drowning death of a crew member aboard his vessel.

Richard Smith, 65, was arrested on an indictment charging him with seaman’s manslaughter, U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert said.

Smith made his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ruth Miller.

The indictment alleges that on or about October 25, 2015, Smith was the captain and owner of the S/V Cimarron.

Through his inattention, negligence and misconduct, Smith allegedly caused the death of David Pontius.

According to the indictment, Pontius was a crew member aboard the S/V Cimarron when the 43-foot sailing vessel left North Carolina to return to St. John where Smith operates a charter sailing business.

During the course of the return voyage, Pontius allegedly became disoriented, climbed over the rail of the boat, and jumped overboard.

The indictment alleges that Smith failed to stop to render assistance. As a result, Mr. Pontius

The Seaman’s Manslaughter Statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1115, holds ship officers, maritime vessel owners, and maritime corporate management criminally responsible for conduct that results in death on a vessel within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States and within the general admiralty jurisdiction of the federal courts. Ship officers—“[e]very captain, engineer, pilot or other person employed . . . on any vessel”—are accountable for “misconduct, negligence or inattention to . . . duties” that results in a loss of life.

If convicted of Seaman’s Manslaughter, Smith faces a maximum sentence of ten years and a $250,000 fine.

Shappert said that an indictment is merely a formal charging document and is not in and of itself evidence of guilt.

“Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless found guilty,” she said.

The case is being investigated by Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS) Chesapeake Region, United States Coast Guard – Marine Safety Detachment (MSD) St. Thomas.

It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Sigrid Tejo-Sprotte.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

1 Comment

  1. marty
    November 10, 2018 at 1:16 AM — Reply

    He jumped overboard and the captain is being charged????

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