A Coast Guard vessel's dangerous speed caused a collision that killed an 8-year-old boy and seriously injured four others aboard a pleasure boat during a holiday parade, the National Transportation Safety Board found Tuesday.
The board also faulted the Coast Guard for lack of supervision in the December 2009 crash that occurred when a crew was rushing to a grounded sailboat that was in no danger of taking on water in San Diego Bay.
The 33-foot Coast Guard vessel was going as fast as 42 knots — or 48 mph — when it struck the pleasure boat shortly after a fireworks show in an area packed with kayaks, canoes and other watercraft, investigators found.
Anthony Cole DeWeese, 8, was on board a 26-foot Sea Ray during the second weekend of the Parade of Lights, an annual event that draws thousands to the edges of San Diego Bay.
Twelve other people were also on board.
In 2009, Anthony's grandfather, Alan DeWeese, 44, of San Diego, told The Associated Press he tried to avoid the Coast Guard boat he estimated was traveling between 30 to 40 knots. DeWeese believes he was moving at 2 to 3 knots.
"I thought he was going to turn at some point," DeWeese said. "He came up so fast I didn't have time to react."
The Coast Guard's electronic equipment failed to capture the Coast Guard vessel's precise speed, but investigators said it was going at least 19 knots, still too fast for conditions. A 12-second video taken within 100 yards of the crash clocked the vessel at 42 knots, and eyewitnesses said it maintained that speed.
The boat's driver and a crew member estimated lower speeds.
NTSB board members, meeting in Washington, were harshly critical of the Coast Guard command and the failure of other crew members to notice the hazard.
"I find it ironic that the Coast Guard is in the position of evaluating all of the other folks in the boating community to determine if they are complying with the rules, but then when they are in a position, they are essentially saying, 'Do as I say, not as I do,'" said Chairwoman Deborah Hersman. "At the end of the day, the Coast Guard has to take some responsibility for this."
Dan Dewell, a Coast Guard spokesman, said his agency looked forward to reviewing the NTSB findings and recommendations involving the "rare and tragic event." The Coast Guard is also doing its own investigation, he said.
Mike Neil, an attorney who represents the family of Anthony DeWeese in a wrongful-death lawsuit against the federal government, said the NTSB findings were "right on the money" for faulting the Coast Guard chain of command.
"These young Coast Guard men and women were put out on these boats without adequate supervision and training and they are also, in a sense, victims," Neil said. "The members of that crew are going to have to carry the memory of the death of this boy for the rest of their lives."
The Coast Guard charged four of the five crew members last year with crimes ranging from involuntary manslaughter to dereliction of duty. The driver, Petty Officer 3rd Class Paul Ramos, was sentenced in military court to three months in the brig for dereliction of duty, while two others received lesser punishments. Charges were dismissed against the fourth member.
The Coast Guard vessel landed atop a 26-foot SeaRay boat that had three families aboard. NTSB investigators said Alan DeWeese, Anthony's father, was driving at a top speed of 4 knots with his lights on at the annual nighttime parade that features boats festooned with lights.
The driver and two other crew members refused to speak with investigators, leaving questions about why the boat went so fast. The sailboat operator had told the Coast Guard that he was not in distress and would wait for high tide to get afloat.
"Why did the rescuers get so focused on getting to their destination that they took unnecessary risks to get there?" the NTSB's Hersman asked. "Unfortunately, our investigators have seen unnecessary and unsafe actions too many times when the zeal to do good offsets sound decision-making."
NTSB investigators found no evidence of drug or alcohol use by the crew.
At his sentencing in March, Ramos asked for forgiveness from jurors and the DeWeese family.
"I live with so much remorse for what happened to all the children and adults that night and the loss of life," he said.