Tugboat pilot Matthew Devlin, 35, distracted by cellphone calls amid a family emergency was sentenced Tuesday (November 1) to one year and a day in prison for a deadly Delaware River crash in Philadelphia that killed two young Hungarian tourists on July 7, 2010.
Devlin spent almost an hour on the cellphone and laptop, and turned off a marine radio, stifling Mayday calls from the duck boat and other nearby vessels. He also moved to a lower wheelhouse so he could hear better, even though it sharply reduced his view of the traffic-clogged river.
A video played in court for the first time depicts the 70-meter-long barge inching toward the idled duck boat. Six minutes later, the barge drives right over the duck boat, killing two Hungarian students and sending 35 others aboard into the Delaware River shipping channel.
Instead, Devlin failed to go on break after learning his five-year-old son had been deprived of oxygen during the surgery. He made or received 21 cellphone calls during the next hour and did medical research on his laptop. Fortunately, his son fully recovered.
Szabolcs Prem, 20, and Dora Schwendtner, 16, drowned in the crash. They were part of a group of Hungarians visiting the United States through a church exchange. The two families currently have wrongful-death lawsuits pending against the operators of both boats, the city and others. They listened to the sentencing hearing in Hungary through an open phone line, with a lawyer and translator beside them.
Although Devlin's family had a genuine crisis that day, his failure to focus on vessel traffic on a crowded river superseded a family crisis that he had no ability to control. Whether he was on the phone or not, the results would have been the same as his son was being attended to by a surgical team. In our chaotic, frazzled times, "multi-tasking" has proved not to be a strength at all, but rather behavior that can result in negligence.