Duck boat's captain sues city and tug operator

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A Ride the Ducks craft is hoisted from the Delaware after the July 7 accident that killed two. The duck boat's captain contends K-Sea Transportation and the City of Philadelphia share blame.

The captain of the duck boat involved in a July 7 accident that killed two young tourists has sued the City of Philadelphia and tugboat operator K-Sea Transportation.

In a filing Thursday in Common Pleas Court, Gary Fox said he nearly died that day on the Delaware River and still suffers from severe emotional and physical injuries.

Representatives for the city, which owned the barge involved in the crash with Fox's boat, and for K-Sea Transportation, which owned the tug towing the barge, said they would not comment on ongoing litigation.

Fox's complaint accuses K-Sea of failing to maintain a proper lookout, failing to heed radio warnings, and violating other basic safety precautions. The suit says the city controlled the waterway and should have known it was dangerous.

When Fox saw smoke coming from the duck boat's engine, he shut it down and called his company for help. As the tug and barge approached the duck boat, Fox radioed marine channels "multiple times" to say that his boat was without power and in distress and that the tug should change course, according to the lawsuit.

The tugboat did not respond, so Fox ordered his 35 passengers to don life jackets. The barge ran over the duck boat, pushing Fox "under the hull of the barge, where Fox could see his remaining passengers," the complaint says.

"Just as he felt he was running out of oxygen, Capt. Fox managed to swim out from one of Duck Boat 34's windows," according to the suit.

The complaint says Fox "suffered serious physical injuries, including to his head, back, neck, arms, and legs, all of which may be permanent."

Fox's lawyers, Robert E. Slota Jr. of Hamburg, Rubin, Mullin, Maxwell & Lupin, and John J. McAuliffe Jr., said their client stayed on the boat even as others were jumping off.

His physical injuries include bruises, abrasions, and pain. He has not worked since the accident.

"Capt. Fox has told us a number of times that he can still see the faces of the victims and hear their screams," McAuliffe said.

Slota said the accident was especially difficult for Fox to cope with because he had a reputation for being especially careful about safety.

"This event has really hit him very hard, because he's always paid attention meticulously to the safety of his crew and of his passengers, so he's had a very difficult time dealing with this emotionally," Slota said. "Capt. Fox's thoughts and concerns continue to go out to the other victims of the crash."

In August, a suit was filed on behalf of the families of the two who died, Dora Schwendtner, 16, and Szabolcs Prem, 20. The suit, claiming negligence and wrongful death, was filed against Ride the Ducks, K-Sea Transportation, and the City of Philadelphia.

Bob Salmon, a spokesman for Ride the Ducks Unlimited, which operates the duck boats, said his company hoped to "have an announcement soon with regard to reopening" in Philadelphia.


Contact staff writer Miriam Hill at 215-854-5520 or hillmb@phillynews.com.