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Victims’ Families: Hudson River Crash May Not Have Been Due To Operator

Meanwhile, Mourners Prepare To Say Goodbye To Bride-To-Be Stewart

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – The families of the two people killed in the tragic boat accident on the Hudson River said Wednesday that it might not have been the boat operator’s fault.

As CBS 2’s Lou Young reported, the remarks from the families of bride-to-be Lindsey Stewart and best man Mark Lennon came as Stewart’s loved ones prepared to say goodbye.

“I don’t know what else to say,” one mourner said. “She was a beautiful, beautiful girl.”

Hundreds of mourners lined up outside the Wyman-Fisher Funeral home in Pearl River to mourn Stewart’s loss, CBS 2’s Tracee Carrasco reported Wednesday night.

“You can’t bring her back, no matter what you say,” said Gerry Reynolds, a friend and former co-worker of Stewart’s. “It’s hard. It’s very hard. We loved her and we’ll miss her.”

In what should have been a time of wedding celebrations, there were only hugs and tears of sadness Wednesday evening.

Friday night’s crash killed bride-to-be Stewart and Lennon, both, 30 and injured four others – all members of the wedding party. Groom-to-be Brian Bond, 35, was also injured when their boat struck the barge near the Tappan Zee Bridge.

“He lost his two best friends — his wife to be and his best friend,” said Eleanor Manheimer, a former co-worker of Stewart’s.

Even as they mourned, many rose to the defense of the boat’s driver – Jojo John, 35 – who was allegedly drunk at the time and was charged by authorities with vehicular manslaughter. Toxicology results on John were still pending Wednesday afternoon.

But an attorney for Bond said the tragic case is more complex than just blaming the boater.

“The fact that the next day they put more lights on that barge, to me, is a sign there wasn’t adequate lighting on that barge” said attorney Nicholas Warywoda.

Stewart and Lennon’s families have even gone so far as to issue a public statement challenging the assumptions that alcohol was the primary cause. They said conversations with crash survivors have led them to two conclusions.

“Compounding our agony is the rush, by some, to cast blame on or even malign the victims. While police have issued serious charges against the boat’s driver, toxicology results supporting those charges will not be available for days,” said the statement issued by Stewart’s mother, Carol Stewart-Kosik, stepfather, Walter Kosik, and Lennon’s parents, Kevin and Dympna Lennon

Lindsey Stewart, Mark Lennon

Bride-to-be Lindsey Stewart and best man Mark Lennon. (credit: CBS 2)

They said first, “the passengers on the boat had consumed very little alcohol and considered themselves sober.”

Secondly, they said, “none of them saw the barge. They did not brace for impact and could not identify what they hit.”

EXTRA: Click Here To Read The Full Statement

The families are asking for help from boaters familiar with those waters.

“We will never understand why this happened, but we do seek to understand exactly what happened that horrible night. To do that, we have a specific request of boaters who have firsthand knowledge of the barges our loved ones struck: If you were out on the water, on or before the night of Friday, July 26, and have knowledge of the barges or the accident conditions, please share your information with us by sending an email to darkbarges@gmail.com.”

Boaters familiar with the river near the Tappan Zee Bridge, and the construction barges out on the river, agreed that warning lights blend in easily with other reflections off the water.

“In practicality, if you’re down low in a boat coming up fast, not looking up there, it’s very possible to come up on that thing and never know you hit it,” said Hudson River boater Jim Wayne.

The U.S. Coast Guard has insisted the construction company working on the new Tappan Zee Bridge played “no negligent role” in the crash. But Nyack Mayor Jen Laird-White confirmed she forwarded complaints about the lighting on the barge weeks before the accident.

Also Wednesday, authorities revealed cellphone video shot by one of the survivor, which shows the last few seconds before the boat slammed into the barge.

The Rockland County district attorney said it’s difficult to tell if the video shows the actual impact. He said the cellphone also briefly recorded audio of the crash and its impact.

Calls between dispatchers and emergency responders also revealed rescue crews and survivors aboard the boat had some trouble spotting each other in the dark.

“I still have the caller on the line, is advising two persons — one man, one female — missing off the vessel. Two persons on the vessel are unconscious and him and another were severely injured,” the dispatcher says on the call.

The calls show it took roughly 12 minutes for crews to find the stranded boat after it crashed.

It’s unclear which of the survivors called 911, although earlier reports said it was Bond. He and the other survivors all suffered serious head injuries, which apparently made communicating difficult.

“He is injured. We’re trying to work with him, but he doesn’t have anything he can relay,” the dispatcher said.

Victim Stewart was to marry Bond on Aug. 10.

Stewart’s funeral will be at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Pearl River.

“It was just an incredible love story,” Bill Dyer, who’s friends with the groom’s father, told WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman. “Saddest part of the whole thing.”

For a little while, a single dark cloud in the otherwise fair sky hung right above the funeral home, Silverman reported.

Lennon’s wake is set for Thursday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m to 9 p.m. at the Wyman-Fisher Funeral Home. His funeral will be Friday at 11 a.m. at St. John the Baptist Church in Piermont.

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(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)