NEW CITY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The man accused of crashing a powerboat into a barge on the Hudson River, killing two friends, is disputing the charge that he was drunk.
Jojo John of Nyack pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Wednesday in Rockland County Court. He was released on $25,000 cash bond later Wednesday, CBS 2’s Lou Young reported.
The 18-count indictment includes charges of vehicular manslaughter and operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
For the first time, prosecutors revealed John allegedly confessed to causing the fatal boat accident that killed his friends.
In court Wednesday, Assistant District Attorney Stephen Moore told the judge that John was full of tears and remorse in that first hour after the crash.
“He indicated that ‘it was my fault, I’ve been drinking all day’ or ‘I’ve been drinking.’ Words to that effect,” Moore said.
Prosecutors said the 35-year-old John had nearly twice the legal level of alcohol in his system. Authorities said cocaine metabolites were also found in John’s system. The toxicology findings are a violation of his parole on an unspecified misdemeanor charge, Young reported.
“Drinking and driving is a lethal mix, as it appears to have been in this incident, which left several families shattered,” Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said in a statement.
His lawyer disputes the test result and said poor lighting on the barge caused the crash.
“The cause of this accident was not intoxication or impairment. The cause of this accident was a lack of lighting on those barges in the Hudson River,” defense attorney David Narain said outside court Wednesday. “People made formal complaints to various different entities explaining the dangers of these barges. Our investigation has revealed that no corrective measures were ever taken until after this accident took place.”
John’s family has lived in Rockland County for 30 years. A family friend said the aftermath of the summer accident has taken its toll.
“It happened; it is not intentional. He’s sorry for the family,” Abraham Alex told Young.
They were thrown from the boat and drowned on July 26 after the boat hit a stationary barge involved in the construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge.
Four others were also injured in the crash, including John and Stewart’s fiancé, Brian Bond. John suffered skull and spine fractures.
Stewart and Bond would have been married two weeks later.
Calls between emergency dispatchers and responders reveal it took roughly 12 minutes for crews to find the boat.
Stewart’s and Lennon’s families had issued a statement saying they believe the DA’s investigation is misguided.
“We are disappointed that the office of the District Attorney focused its attention on the behavior of Jojo John to the exclusion of anyone else,” they said. “We continue to believe that the owners and operators of the barges where this accident happened share responsibility for the happening of this accident. Not only was the lighting on the barges insufficient or non-existent on the night of this accident but the contractors using the barges were warned in advance of this tragedy that boaters operating at night in the vicinity of the Tappan Zee Bridge could not see the barges.”
The Coast Guard said the barge’s lights met federal requirements, but the bridge contractor did add more lighting to barges the day after the crash.
Also Wednesday, the estates of Stewart and Lennon have filed lawsuits alleging that poor lighting on a construction barge is to blame.
The lawsuits filed in Rockland County Court name several companies involved in the construction of a new Tappan Zee Bridge.
The case returns to court in January. If convicted, John faces up to 15 years in prison on the top counts.
Check Out These Other Stories From CBSNewYork.com:
[display-posts category=”news” wrapper=”ul” posts_per_page=”4″]
(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.)