Crew member charged in B.C. ferry sinking
The navigating officer on the bridge the night a B.C. ferry ran aground on Gil Island nearly four years ago has been charged in connection with the deaths of two passengers.
Ninety-nine passengers and crew aboard the Queen of the North ferry were rescued after the ship steamed through a scheduled turning point and travelled for 14 minutes before slamming into the island, about 175 kilometres from Prince Rupert, B.C., on March 22, 2006.
Passengers Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette of 100 Mile House were presumed drowned. Their bodies have never been recovered.
Officer Karl Lilgert, one of two crew members on the bridge at the time of the accident, is accused of criminal negligence causing death.
"Mr. Lilgert has been charged on the basis that he was the navigating officer responsible for steering of the vessel at the time of the incident," the criminal justice branch of the Ministry of Attorney General said in a news release.
Lilgert will enter a not-guilty plea when he appears in court April 14 in Vancouver.
Glen Orris, lawyer for Lilgert, told CTV News his client has never denied responsibility for the accident.
"The issue is whether the Crown can establish criminal negligence on his part," Orris said.
"I want to see what they have which moves it from simply a mistake into the criminal."
A Transportation Safety Board (TSB) report released in March 2008 said a personal conversation between Fourth Officer Karl Lilgert and Quartermaster Karen Briker on the bridge, an ongoing squall, and the failure of a radar alarm all contributed to the failure to correct the course.
The report said Briker and Lilgert had recently ended a relationship and it was their first shift alone on watch since the break-up.
The safety board said the two were engaged in a personal conversation while the ship was on its collision course.
Lilgert and Briker have refused to divulge what happened in those crucial minutes but insist nothing inappropriate happened. They have both been fired by BC Ferries, along with the ship's second officer, Keven Hilton, who was on a scheduled lunch break at the time.
The criminal justice branch said evidence does not support laying charges against anyone other than Lilgert. It is expected Briker will be called as a witness during court proceedings.
Lilgert issued a public apology to the Foisy and Rosette families after the report's release, calling the sinking a "tragic accident."
"Words are inadequate for the sorrow and grief I feel. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about everyone that was impacted by this tragic accident. For all of this I am deeply sorry."
Orris said Lilgert feels the criminal proceedings are "the last step" in a long process of internal, criminal and civil inquiries. He said Lilgert's feelings of responsibility have taken an emotional toll.
"When you carry the deaths of people around you it's going to be emotional. It takes it out of you. There's no question of that."
Foisy's two daughters won a $200,000 wrongful death suit against BC Ferries last year.
A B.C. Supreme Court judge awarded three passengers who survived the sinking amounts ranging from $500 to $14,000 for lingering psychological problems related to the accident.
Two other passengers who also reported emotional and psychological issues received nothing.
Other passengers were offered settlements last year, but their cases are still before the court.
A long process
The criminal justice branch said the four-year investigation has been a difficult and detailed one.
"The process has involved consideration of a substantial body of information and has required the evidence of experts in a number of relevant disciplines," the news release said.
The branch said a negligence charge is laid when there is evidence someone didn't perform their duty and showed reckless disregard for the safety or lives of others.
Monday marks the four-year anniversary of the sinking.