MINEOLA, N.Y. — A 34-foot yacht that capsized last year while leaving a July 4 fireworks show, killing three children, tipped over because it was overcrowded, a New York prosecutor said in a report released Wednesday.
Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, who said earlier this year that no criminal charges would be filed, noted that despite the findings, federal boating regulations still do not require capacity limits for vessels 20 feet and longer.
"Some people maintain a cultural belief that pleasure boating is the last bastion of recreation that is free from over-regulation," the report said. "Unfortunately these views tend toward a sentimental oversimplification of the nature of recreational boating."
The Silverton yacht called the Kandi Won had 17 adults and 10 children on board when it spilled into the waters of Oyster Bay shortly after 10 p.m. and quickly sank. The children who died, ages 12, 11 and 7, drowned after becoming trapped inside the cabin. Two adults tried desperately to rescue the children, but they quickly became separated in the dark as water inundated the vessel, the report noted.
The 52-page report cited the findings of Neil Gallagher, a professor of marine engineering and naval architecture at Webb Institute in Glen Cove, N.Y.
Gallagher noted that it's not clear whether a passing boat or steering and throttle movements influenced the capsize, but the accident "was very likely to have occurred given the loading."
The yearlong study also found that neither the boat's owner, Kevin Treanor, nor the man operating the vessel, Sal Aureliano, were intoxicated. In fact, blood-alcohol testing found each had a reading of 0.00.
It also said weather did not appear to be a factor, although it noted thunderstorms were in the forecast.
Treanor's 11-year-old daughter, Harlie, and Aureliano's nephew David Aureliano, 12, died in the accident. The third victim was a family friend, 7-year-old Victoria Gaines.
"The report was valuable in that it highlights an omission in boating laws with respect to the capacity of pleasure craft," said James Mercante, an attorney representing Treanor. "There may have been a lot of people on that boat, but there was seating for over 14 and standing room for many more. It's a tragic accident but no one felt crowded on the boat; no one complained."
Paul Gaines, Victoria's father, issued a statement through his attorney:
"I just hope that Victoria's memory can serve as a reminder to all boaters to be more cautious, and remember that there are many lives at stake. This tragedy should be a wakeup call to all legislators to enact" stricter boating safety rules.
The U.S. Coast Guard sets capacity limits on boats 20 feet or smaller but says annual reviews of accident data has not found enough capsizing accidents involving boats 20 feet and longer to justify a rule requiring limits for them, spokeswoman Lisa Novack said.
Rice's report called for a review of that policy, as well as other recommendations for changes in state laws regarding drunken boating, expanded boater safety regulations and training and safety inspections for boats similar to those required for motor vehicles.
"The tragedy of the Kandi Won was unspeakable," the report said. "It was the catalyst for public hearings and legislation. All stakeholders must be open to new common sense regulations to improve boater safety".