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Tug captain, family business guilty in deadly barge explosion, oil spill



Updated: June 9, 2014 7:50PM

A tugboat captain and the family-owned business he worked for were both found guilty Monday of the negligent manslaughter of a crew member who died in a huge barge explosion in 2005.

Dennis Egan, 36, illegally allowed deckhand Alex Oliva, 29, to use the naked flame of a propane blow torch on a barge, triggering an explosion that killed Oliva, sank the barge and flooded the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal with 600,000 gallons of oil, U.S. District Judge James Zagel ruled.

Both Egan and his uncle’s business, Egan Marine Corporation denied they were to blame for the fatal blast.

But Zagel, who presided over a two-and-a-half week bench trial, said he believed that Oliva was following Egan’s dangerous orders when he used the propane torch to warm a frozen cargo pump, causing the explosion.

The judge said a ship’s captain had a “special responsibility” for his crew and passengers that is “at the heart of the idea that a captain goes down with his ship.”

He noted that a civil case brought against Egan Marine Corporation over the explosion had been less successful, but said the government seemed to have learned from its failure in the earlier case.

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 by-product — into the water.

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

Zagel said physical evidence recovered from the wreckage of the barge proved the barge’s normal heating system had been disconnected at the time of the explosion, forcing Oliva to use the propane torch.

But he praised Dennis Egan for giving honest, self-incriminating answers to investigators in the immediate aftermath of the accident, saying “It must have been a disastrous time for Dennis Michael Egan.”

Both Egan and his employer are due to be sentenced later this year.


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