Jury Finds Barge Pilot Warren Luetke Not Guilty Of Criminally-Negligent Homicide

Monday, May 19, 2014 - by Hollie Webb
Captain Luetke and his wife after they received the not guilty verdict
Captain Luetke and his wife after they received the not guilty verdict
- photo by Hollie Webb

A jury found barge pilot Warren Luetke not guilty of criminally-negligent homicide after a week-long trial. The verdict was announced Monday morning after just about an hour of deliberation in the courtroom of Judge Barry Steelman.

In his closing statement, defense attorney Sam Hudson told the jury, "Ladies and gentlemen, accidents happen. Every accident should not result in criminal prosecution." 

He said, "The only evidence that has been introduced is that the boaters on the river weren't paying attention.

"

Captain Luetke was charged with two counts of criminally negligent homicide, reckless operation of a boat, and failure to render aid after the deaths of two men in a fishing boat struck by the barge he was piloting at the time. He was found innocent of all charges.

Attorney Hudson mentioned that one witness had equated the situation to "somebody getting hit by a walking horse while walking in the middle of a field."

Both deceased men, Richard Wilkey and Timothy Spidle, were found to have BACs of around .2, over twice the legal limit to operate a vehicle. 

Attorney Hudson said, "I submit to you their intoxication may have been the reason that they drowned." He pointed out that while it was clear the barge struck the boat, there was no evidence such as bodily injuries to indicate the barge actually struck the men.

In his testimony, Captain Luetke said the only possible explanation he could think of was that the boat could have been in the blind spot of the barge before he took control after the shift change. 

Attorney Hudson said, "That's a possibility, ladies and gentlemen, and that's reasonable doubt."

He also pointed out that Captain Will Stevens, the pilot of the Bearcat before the defendant took the wheel, testified that almost any other tugboat pilot would have done the same things. 

However, prosecutor Cameron Williams said, "It is not a defense that the negligent conduct of the deceased may also be a cause of the death."

He said, "I was brought up that you take responsibility for your actions. There are some people that are not brought up that way, and they'll say or do anything to avoid that responsibility." 

Prosecutor Williams said, "It's not a defense that they were intoxicated to the defendant's own criminal negligence...They have paid for those actions. They have paid the ultimate price. They paid for them with their lives."

He said that Chris Wilkey having a "junky boat" and "not maintaining a proper lookout" does not absolve the defendant for his own negligence. 

He said, "The defense says there's not a single shred of evidence he was not paying attention. That's not true; he struck the boat. If he would have been paying attention, he would have seen that boat and he would have avoided it."

- Photo2 by Hollie Webb


Signal Mountain Man Charged In Shooting

A Signal Mountain has been charged after a shooting near the 3100 block of Highway 127 in Sequatchie County on Friday night. Stewart Luttrell, 31, was charged with aggravated assault. Deputies found a man who was shot in the side. Luttrell was then located in a wooded area. The shooting victim was in stable condition. Luttrell was taken to the Sequatchie ... (click for more)

Man Shot During Robbery On Rawlings Street

A man was shot in an early morning robbery on Rawlings Street on Saturday.   Chattanooga Police responded at 1:10 a.m. to the 2100 block of Rawlings Street.   Officers were called to a local hospital on reports of a victim arriving who was suffering from a gunshot wound.   The victim, 38-year-old Maurice Flanagan, advised that he was approached ... (click for more)

Mayor Invites Civil War II - And Response (12)

I just received an email from the Mayor stating that he filed paperwork to remove the city of Chattanooga as the trustee for the Confederate Cemetery on Third Street. I understand the Mayor's intent was to distance the city from it's racist past and subsequent hate, but I feel like this is an interesting move without much thought of the consequences. The Mayor prefaced his ... (click for more)

Berke Plan To Solve Discrimination Is To Kick Dead Veterans To The Curb

Racism and discrimination is wrong. What is the best way for a parent to teach a child the evils of discrimination? Should the parent demonstrate and repetitively incentivize the proper behavior? Or, would it be more productive to badger the child over and over again for the sins of the child's g-g-g-grandfather who died 150 years ago? Would burning the personal effects of the grandfather ... (click for more)

Ty Boeck Scores Three TDs As Soddy Daisy Wins 35-32

Justin Barnes had a tough time wiping the smile off of his face late Friday night at Soddy Daisy’s Robert Talaska Field. His Trojans had just picked up a 35-32 victory over arch-rival Red Bank in a non-district game, but he’s been involved in three of these games as a player and now five as a coach.  He won all three as Red Bank’s quarterback before graduating in 1999 and ... (click for more)

Defending Champ Farragut Clips Bears 27-21 In OT

CLEVELAND, Tenn. – Farragut has one of the nation’s top-rated senior tight ends in the country and the Admirals weren’t shy about utilizing their primary offensive weapon against Bradley Central on Friday night at Bear Stadium. Jacob Warren, the super-talented 6-foot-6, 226-pound receiver caught four touchdown passes that included the game-winner in the Admirals’ 27-21 overtime ... (click for more)