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

Latest Hamilton County Jail Booking Report

Here is the latest jail booking report from Hamilton County: ACUFF, DEBORAH LYNN  3334 E. 34TH ST CHATTANOOGA, 37407  Age at Arrest: 55 years old Arresting Agency:  INDECENT EXPOSURE --- ARNOLD, KENNETH ROGER  3711 CLIO AVENUE CHATTANOOGA, 37407  Age at Arrest: 52 years old Arresting Agency: Hamilton County Booked for Previous Charges ... (click for more)

Councilman Banks Asks Bradley Schools To Dismiss Liquor-By-The-Drink Lawsuit; Fivas Hits The Ground Running

The courts have twice ruled in favor of the city of Cleveland regarding taxes generated by the sale of liquor-by-the-drink, Councilman Richard Banks noted at the Cleveland City Council meeting Monday afternoon. Therefore, he made a motion to ask the new Bradley County School Board to dismiss its lawsuit against Cleveland. That board has been seeking to be paid a large portion of ... (click for more)

Of Course Gangs Are A Public Nuisance

Now, I don't know it all.  Beginning with my parents, folks of all sorts have been actively pointing out my ignorance for more than seven decades now.  So I'm well aware that I don't know it all.  In recent months I've begun to develop an appreciation for the local work of Mr. Neal Pinkston; I've been impressed with several things he's been doing in his official ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Arnold Palmer’s Greatness

This is hardly meant to be flippant but I’d be willing to bet I’ve been in the presence of more great people than anyone you know. I’ve never ranked them, or ever dared to wonder who was the greatest, such as Muhammad Ali or Elvis Presley, but there are two traits that those who reach the highest pinnacle have in common. First, not a one of them was any good at what made them famous ... (click for more)

Vols' Dobbs, Barnett Grab SEC Player of Week Honors

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs is the SEC Offensive Player of the Week and end Derek Barnett the SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Week. This week's honor marks the first time this season that a Vol has earned SEC Offensive Player of the Week. Dobbs was the last UT player to win the award in Week 6 of 2015 following his performance in the Vols' ... (click for more)

Craine, Ribeiro Named SoCon Players Of The Week

Two University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football student-athletes were named Southern Conference Players of the Week, following the Mocs' 41-21 win over Samford on Saturday.  Seniors Derrick Craine and Henrique Ribeiro both earned recognition from the league office announced today. Craine rushed for a career-high 222 yards on 23 carries with two touchdowns in the win. ... (click for more)