Boat owner and pilot charged in deadly New York boat accident that killed 2 passengers

Two men were arrested Thursday and charged with causing the deaths of two people after the boat they were operating capsized in New York City’s Hudson River in July 2022, federal prosecutors said.

Richard Cruz, 32, and Jaime Pinilla Gomez, 25, were charged with one count each of misconduct and neglect of a ship officer resulting in death, according to the US attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York. Cruz was the owner of the vehicle and Gomez was the pilot, according to the complaint.

At the time of the accident, all 13 people onboard were thrown overboard, according to a criminal complaint obtained by CNN. Rescue teams found the two victims, whom the New York Police Department identified as Julian Vasquez, 7, and Lindelia Vasquez, 48, trapped under the boat and unconscious after the capsizing, according to the US attorney’s office. Emergency workers pronounced them dead from a cause of drowning.

Cruz and Gomez conducted tours on the boat named “Stimulus Money” for paying customers in the months leading up to the capsizing, although they did not have the proper licenses to do so, according to a criminal complaint.

The complaint alleges that Cruz and Gomez broke several federal regulations in operating the boat, including having more passengers than the vessel’s maximum capacity, not possessing the certification needed for bringing paying customers on board and operating the boat without the required inspection.

The boat’s operating manual prohibits having more than 12 people on board, according to the complaint.

According to the compliant, there was a weather advisory in effect for New York Harbor at the time of the accident, the complaint said, and “inexperienced mariners, especially those operating smaller vessels, should avoid navigating in hazardous conditions.” Cruz and Gomez were also cited for driving the boat too quickly during these weather conditions.

“Federal regulations and protocols exist to ensure the captains and operators of commercial vehicles keep passengers safe,” US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams said in a news release. “The defendants allegedly flouted those regulations, recklessly disregarded safety protocols, operated the vessel at an unsafe speed in hazardous conditions, and overloaded the vessel with too many passengers onboard.”

“And the result was tragic – a young boy and a woman trapped under the vessel and drowned after the vessel capsized,” he added.

The maximum potential sentence Cruz and Gomez face is 10 years, the news release said.

The boat, Stimulus Money, is recovered from the Hudson River by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the NYPD. - United States Coast Guard Investigative Service
The boat, Stimulus Money, is recovered from the Hudson River by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the NYPD. - United States Coast Guard Investigative Service

Gomez’s attorney, Thomas H. Nooter, declined to comment to CNN. Kristoff Williams, the attorney listed for Cruz, has not responded.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams called the incident a “devastating moment” at the time of the accident.

“Our hearts go out to a group of people who were just using the water in our cities,” Adams said. “This is a devastating moment for them and those who were part of the families that were there.”

CNN has reached out to the Vasquez family but has not heard back.

CNN’s Zenebou Sylla and Rob Frehse contributed to this report.

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