published Saturday, February 12th, 2011

Chattanooga tugboat operator indicted in deaths of fishermen whose boat was hit by a barge

A grand jury indicted a tugboat operator on two counts of criminally negligent homicide in connection with the deaths of two fishermen whose boat was hit by a barge last summer, according to court records.

Warren Luetke, 39, was negligent as the tugboat operator for the Bearcat, owned by Chattanooga-based Serodino Inc., when the 647-foot tugboat-barge combination collided with a fishing boat occupied by three men, according to the indictment filed Wednesday and previous Times Free Press archives.

Tim Spidle, 45, of Elizabethton, Tenn., and Richard Wilkey, 52, of Soddy-Daisy, were killed in the June 19 accident on the Tennessee River in Chickamauga Lake after they were fishing on a 1977 16-foot Glastron.

Now more than six months later, after investigators with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency consulted with the Hamilton County district attorney's office, criminal charges were filed.

"I'm overjoyed by it," said David "Christopher" Wilkey, 37, the only survivor on the fishing boat, who lost his friend and brother this summer. "One hundred times a day, that goes through my head. ... It ain't been an easy thing to deal with."

Luetke also faces charges of reckless operation of a boat and rendering of assistance after he did not stop until authorities flagged him down.

"They ran us down, and they got seven or eight miles before anybody stopped them," Wilkey recalled at his home Friday evening.

Luetke was indicted Wednesday and arrested Friday afternoon. He posted a $5,000 bond.

Luetke declined to comment when reached by phone Friday afternoon.

The U.S. Coast Guard also is conducting an investigation, which is still pending.

Serodino Inc. officials declined to comment when reached by phone Friday. According to authorities, Luetke still has an operating license.

In December, attorneys for Serodino filed a limitation of liability in federal court attempting to limit their liability in the collision. The 1991 Bearcat value was assessed at about $1.1 million, according to court records. The freight on board was assessed at $11,615.

The limitation was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee after Chattanooga-based attorney Jerry Summers, who is representing the estate of Richard Wilkey, filed a claim in June.

Summers declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

David Wilkey said he believes the company shares responsibility for the crash.

"The company's definitely liable for their employees," he said.

The same tugboat was involved in a similar fatal collision with a fishing boat on Watts Bar Lake in Loudon County on June 26, 2009, where 53-year-old Jones Bower Bare was killed.

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@times freepress.com or 423-757-6406.

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cannonball said...

The tugboat company should have some sort of liability here. Seems like they have a lot of boating accidents.

February 12, 2011 at 9:07 a.m.
dave said...

This Towboat operator and towboat company are a danger to others on the river. While Barges are large and difficult to manage, this does not remove their responsibility for safe operation. When they have repeatedly run over and killed other boaters, something is obviously wrong. I am glad they are being investigated.

February 12, 2011 at 10:47 a.m.
BOOBOO99 said...

This guy should rot in jail for the murders of these 2 fisherman and for not stopping after he hit the boat.. This thug killed 2 Men. Serodino Inc should responsible too.They hired this murderer, they should pay the piper. Also they should revoke their business.

February 12, 2011 at 12:29 p.m.
Migrator said...

It was sad to read about this boating tragedy. My heart goes out to all persons affected, including the tug operator. I do urge readers to withold judgement, pending a complete investigation.

Intercoatal waterways navigation is dangerous and vessel piloting dynamics are complex. Multiple factors were probably contributive in this accident; visability from the wheelhouse of a 600+ foot vessel, right of ways in a bank to bank navigation channel at The Opossum Creek Inlet/river bend, watch distraction, vessel relative speeds and much more!

Repeated accidents in the Chickamauga Pool compels intense investigation resulting in to a comprehensive safety action plan.

Join me in writing the DNR and Coast Guard. Insist on cooperative private and public efforts to avert further tragedy on our waters.

February 12, 2011 at 10:22 p.m.
joearganbright said...

This is ridiculous. The men in the boat that was ran over were under the influence of alcohol and/or marijuana. The pilot did not stop because he did not know that he ran over them. Although the pilot may be at fault somewhat, he should not be charged with a crime. I also wonder if the boat that was struck had navigation lights on. If you pass out in your car because you are drunk and your lights are off and a tractor trailer runs you over, would the tractor trailer driver be at fault? This is the same scenario. The men in the fishing boat were also negligent. Luetke should not serve time because of this terrible accident.

March 1, 2011 at 8:32 p.m.
rolema said...

if drugs and alcohol were involved @ the men in the boat didnot see or here a 600 ft tug boat coming then their is something wrong or they are def. or blind. I fished that river a miny times and i get out of the way of a tug boat. I think they have the right of way out their.

October 30, 2011 at 8:52 p.m.
IMAGOD2 said...

With THAT kind of TALK, from BOOBOO99 up above.......it's just TOO BAD their dumba$$ wasn't the THIRD fatality in the PARTY boat !!!! YOU stupid, ingnorant mo the rf uck er !!!!!!!!!!!!!

May 14, 2012 at 1:45 a.m.
Shay86 said...

wow its rude how you can talk about someone that cant even stick up for their self 7im spidle was my father and i would give anything to have him back in my life that bastered took him from me and should rot in hell if you would read the whole story retarts you would know that my dads boat wouldnt start and i dont care how much he drinks he was a very good swimmer and if you know they whole truth you would know the luetke was on his cell phone at the time of the crash so how could he even see my dads fishing boat thats why he didnt blow the horn is because he wasnt doing his job my dad was the best he was very caring and just a simple man he didnt ask for much and he would give befor he would take i love and miss him so much its to bad some people have to make jokes about someones pain grow up and for the caring people on here thank you it means alot R.I.P DAD YOUR BABYGIRL SHANNON

January 21, 2013 at 4:03 a.m.
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