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Tour Boat Operators Charged In Hudson River Capsize That Killed Woman, 7-Year-Old Boy

Federal prosecutors have arrested two New Jersey tour boat operators in the 2022 drowning deaths of a 7-year-old boy and his aunt after their overcrowded vessel capsized while speeding in rough water off Manhattan, authorities said.

Richard Cruz, 32, and Jaime Pinilla Gomez, 25, were taken into custody Thursday and charged with one count each of misconduct and neglect of a ship resulting in death, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced.

On July 12, 2022, Cruz and Gomez’s 24-foot boat, the “Stimulus Money,” flipped over in the Hudson River while carrying 13 people. The operators allegedly did not have proper credentials or certifications.

While 11 people on the boat were able to escape, Lindelia Vasquez, 48, and 7-year-old Julian Vasquez became trapped beneath the vessel. Their bodies were recovered by a dive team approximately 25 minutes after the capsizing. Their cause of death was drowning, authorities said.

Eleven people were able to escape the capsizing of the Stimulus Money, but two passengers -- a 48-year-old woman and her 7-year-old nephew -- were found unconscious beneath the boat and pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said.
Eleven people were able to escape the capsizing of the Stimulus Money, but two passengers -- a 48-year-old woman and her 7-year-old nephew -- were found unconscious beneath the boat and pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said. US Attorney's Office Southern District of New York

“This case demonstrates the deadly consequences of illegal passenger operations,” Rear Admiral John Mauger said in a statement reacting to the criminal charges. “Our thoughts are with the families of the victims today.”

Neither man was listed as having an attorney.

Cruz purchased the boat in cash off Facebook Marketplace about three months before the deadly accident, and started charging passengers $200 an hour for tours around the area, despite not having the required United States Coast Guard credentials and certifications to do so, authorities said.

Gomez, who was described in the complaint as an “insufficiently experienced mariner,” piloted the boat and allowed 13 people to board for the ill-fated trip, despite the boat’s 12-person limit and a small craft advisory being in effect at the time for New York Harbor, according to a copy of the criminal complaint.

The Stimulus Money is pulled out of the water after its July 12, 2022, capsizing.
The Stimulus Money is pulled out of the water after its July 12, 2022, capsizing. US Attorney's Office Southern District of New York

“Inexperienced mariners, especially those operating smaller vessels,” were advised not to navigate the water due to the high winds and strong currents, the complaint states.

Once on the water, the boat allegedly traveled at high speeds in strong winds and heavy seas around lower Manhattan. It then entered some swells, causing its bow to take on water.

Gomez brought both throttles to a neutral position just as another swell hit the boat. The change in propulsion, coupled with the swell, caused the bow to become completely submerged up to its windshield. Gomez then accelerated the right-side throttle, exceeding the recommended rounds per minute for the vessel, just before it capsized on its left side, authorities said.

All 13 people on the boat were thrown overboard, according to authorities.

A victim of the boat accident is rushed away by paramedics.
A victim of the boat accident is rushed away by paramedics. New York Daily News via Getty Images

Authorities concluded that Gomez was not properly wearing a safety device that would have turned off the boat’s engine if he’d abruptly moved away from the piloting position. Had Gomez been wearing the device as required, investigators said, “the vessel may not have overturned.”

“The lanyard was still intact and attached to the helm console at the time of the capsizing, indicating that the pilot was not wearing the Engine Kill Switch Lanyard or not wearing it properly,” the complaint states.

Both men, who were scheduled to make their first court appearance on Thursday, face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

“Federal regulations and safety protocols exist to ensure that captains and operators of commercial vessels keep passengers safe,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams in a statement. “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 were trapped under the vessel and drowned after the vessel capsized.”

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