Families claim barge at fault in fatal Ohio River pontoon boat c - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Families claim barge at fault in fatal Ohio River pontoon boat crash

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Family members of five people killed when a pontoon boat capsized on the Ohio River in July are blaming a Walsh Construction Co. barge for the crash.

The allegations were made in documents filed this week in U.S. District Court in Louisville as part of a case initiated by Walsh, which is seeking to limit its liability from the July 4 collision. The company is building the Ohio River Bridges Project’s downtown crossing.

Specifically, relatives of those who died allege that Walsh knew that a floating platform used for bridge construction wasn’t seaworthy and “created a dangerous condition and negligently failed to warn of the same.” The pontoon boat struck that barge after dark at a July 4 fireworks show and was sucked under, according to court documents.

Walsh typically does not comment on pending litigation, spokesman Clair Nichols said.

Walsh filed the federal case on August 4 seeking protection from possible lawsuits. In filings, company attorneys maintained the barge was seaworthy when the collision occurred and claimed Walsh was not at fault.

On Aug. 11, U.S. District Judge Thomas B. Russell ordered that any claims against Walsh be submitted by Monday, Sept. 21 in federal court.

The families filed responses last Friday and Monday asking for unspecified monetary damages, a jury trial and other actions, including the ability to sue Walsh in state court.

The families don’t want Walsh to be able to cap its liability, said James M. “Bo” Bolus, an attorney representing a relative of Joyce Wright, who died in the crash.

“We want to do some discovery with Walsh,” Bolus said. “We don’t feel they had any business having the barge where they had it without proper warnings and precautions.”

For example, Bolus said, there were warning signs on only one side of the barge at the time of the crash.

The families also claim in court filings that Walsh and its affiliates “had been warned about, and/or had been repeatedly requested to make changes and safety considerations in the operations so as to avoid tragedies” such as the July collision.  

Walsh also failed to adequately light the barge, maintain a lookout and follow requirements of a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the families allege.  

“Once all the facts are known, we hope that any responsible parties step up and take responsibility,” said Chris Meinhart, one of the family members’ lead attorneys.

Five people were killed when the boat collided with the Walsh barge. According to the recently filed documents, Derbyville Water Rentals rented a 24-foot pontoon boat at around 8 p.m. on July 4.

Danal Swinney Sr. was piloting the boat in the river’s navigational channel when he was “directed by law enforcement” toward the Indiana shore to make way for the Belle of Louisville, court filings say. After sunset, the boat hit and was sucked under the Walsh barge.

Danal Swinney Sr. was killed. The others who died were Wright, Mark Swinney Jr., Donald Swinney and A’Daisha Swinney.

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