One hour after the fatal crash of a Staten Island Ferry, police called to the house of a man identified as its pilot found him with a pellet shot to the head and slashed wrists, police sources said last night.
The man was identified as Richard Smith of 75 Margaretta Court in the borough's Westerleigh section -- about a 10-minute ride from St. George, the scene of the accident.
"The assistant captain at the controls collapsed," said
Councilman Michael McMahon. "By the time the other captain
could get control of the ship, it was too late."
According to McMahon, the crash was related to "health problems and
medication" -- reportedly for a blood pressure problem.
Early results indicated alcohol was not a factor, according to a high-ranking law
enforcement source speaking to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
National Transportation Safety Board chairwoman Ellen Engleman
said today the agency has "a lot of conflicting reports" about
the pilot's condition prior to the crash. "We don't want to pass on stories or rumors," she said.
Smith, 55, spoke with police yesterday, but has not yet been interviewed in
depth, Engleman said.
Alan Abramson, an attorney for Smith, released a two-sentence
statement today after meeting with the pilot's family.
"The family and all concerned hope that people will not rush to
judgment," said Abramson, who has yet to meet with his client.
"Their prayers go out to all the victims."
Smith was taken to St. Vincent's Medical Center on Staten Island in police custody, the sources told Newsday, as officers cordoned off his house with wooden barricades and posted police there.
About 4:20 p.m., a male caller to 911 said the boat's captain had tried to kill himself at that address. That's when police responded.
Neighbor Sheryl Syverston, 52, said police talked to her about the captain and told her he tried to hurt himself. She saw the captain taken away on a stretcher, his wife and sister following.
"It's terrible, just terrible," Syverston said. "He's such a nice man. A real family man. All I can do is just pray for them."
Syverston said Smith never talked about work but she often saw him leaving home and returning in his uniform.
Another neighbor, Stella LoBianco, said Smith is a Staten Island native who has lived at his current house for 23 years. They talked about gardening and raising children. She said he was happy when he became a captain six years ago and the neighbors were happy for him also.
The father of four has many interests, including gardening and playing classical piano. "I could hear him practicing. It was very beautiful," LoBianco said.
When one of his daughters graduated from high school recently, he bought her a flower arbor, neighbors said. At one time he was also fascinated with antique cars, spending hours refurbishing a
1941 Ford sedan in his driveway.
"He had to be totally traumatized when he left that boat," said LoBianco. "If he saw what had happened, he would just have to be totally traumatized by the effect of what happened. It's going to get worse for him."
Iris Weinshall, department of transportation commissioner, said Smith has worked for the city for 15 years and has a clean record. "He has a lot of senority, she said, adding that staffers are combing personnel files "to ascertain if there is anything we should have seen."
Sources: Ferry Pilot Tried Suicide
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