No Jail for Boater in Crash Near Liberty Island

By JENNIFER PELTZ | October 3, 2013

A New York boater who admitted he drunkenly got into a deadly crash near the Statue of Liberty won’t be going to jail, under a plea deal he took Tuesday.

Richard Aquilone pleaded guilty to charges including criminally negligent homicide and vehicular manslaughter in a July 2010 boat wreck that split another boat in half and killed a man who was less than two months from his wedding day.

Aquilone, 43, is to be sentenced Nov. 12 to five years’ probation and 250 hours of community service.

He could have faced up to seven years in prison if convicted. But the Manhattan Assistant District Attorney John Wolfstaetter noted that Aquilone was pleading guilty to the top charge against him, and the prosecutor said that victim Jijo Puthuvamkunnath’s relatives wanted to resolve a case fraught with “significant legal and factual issues.”

“The defendant will be held accountable for his actions and choices, and Mr. Puthuvamkunnath’s family will have the finality and closure that they seek,” Wolfstaetter said.

Puthuvamkunnath’s relatives are suing Aquilone. They had no immediate comment on the plea, said their lawyer, Andrew J. Maloney III.

Aquilone’s blood-alcohol level was measured after the crash at 0.06 – below the 0.08 legal limit for driving while intoxicated, but sufficient for a boating-under-the-influence charge, though authorities might have tried to argue at a trial that it was higher at the moment of the wreck.

As part of his plea, Aquilone agreed his blood-alcohol level was at or above 0.08 when the boats hit and said “yes” when Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Jill Konviser asked whether he’d been drunk at the time.

Aquilone, an investment executive from Jersey City, N.J., was out for a jaunt on the water with his wife and three small children when their 30-foot power boat hit a 17-foot craft anchored near Liberty Island.

The 30-year-old Puthuvamkunnath, of Bergenfield, N.J., was killed. Another man on the smaller boat was hurt.

Aquilone’s lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, called the crash a tragedy and said the plea “allows him to put this 39-month legal odyssey behind him.”

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