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Closing arguments heard in negligence trial of tugboat captain

Updated: July 8, 2014 6:13AM



A tugboat captain’s “reckless gross negligence” caused a huge explosion that killed a crew member, sank a barge and flooded the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal with 600,000 gallons of oil back in 2005, prosecutors alleged Friday.

Dennis Egan, 36, illegally allowed deckhand Alex Oliva, 29, to use the naked flame of a propane blow torch to warm a frozen cargo pump, triggering a blast that killed Oliva, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Chapman said during closing arguments in Egan’s trial.

Attorneys for both Egan and for his uncle’s business, Egan Marine Corporation, said Dennis Egan is being unfairly blamed for a “tragic accident.”

It’s been nearly a decade since the January 2005 explosion on a section of the canal near Cicero Avenue ripped open the steel barge Egan’s tug was pulling, killing Oliva and dumping clarified slurry oil — a petroleum byproduct — into the water.

Egan and the marine business were each charged with negligence after a long federal investigation in 2010.

Showing Judge James Zagel a mangled piece of metal recovered from the wreckage of the sunken barge, Chapman said Friday it was clear a heater had been disconnected from the barge’s cargo pump before the blast.

With the barge quickly approaching the dock at which it was to unload the oil, and the barge’s cargo pump frozen in the winter weather, Egan ignored protocol and allowed Oliva to warm the pump with a propane torch, Chapman said.

The naked flame ignited oil vapors, causing an explosion that was captured on tape by a security camera on the canal bank, Chapman said.

But representing Egan, William Walters accused the government of “selective hearing,” saying there was no evidence Egan had allowed the torch to be used.

In his closing argument, Egan Marine attorney Steven Fritzschall denied the cargo pump heater had been disconnected and agreed that “it’s common sense this was just a tragic accident.”

Zagel said he would issue a verdict on Monday.

Email: kjanssen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @kimjnews



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