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"My fault," Jojo John said to first responders on the night of July 26, according to Rockland County executive assistant district attorney Steve Moore. "I was drinking all day."
During John's arraignment on a multifelony indictment Wednesday, Moore said that John's blood-alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit, that there were traces of cocaine in his system and that he was speeding and driving recklessly when he crashed the 19-foot-speed boat into a barge being used in construction just south of the Tappan Zee Bridge.
The crash killed bride-to-be Lindsey Stewart, 30, of Piermont and her fiance's best man, Mark Lennon, 30, of Pearl River. Stewart and Brian Bond, who was injured, were set to marry in mid-August.
Also Wednesday, the families of both victims filed separate civil lawsuits seeking damages from John, the barge owners, and Tappan Zee Constructors, the consortium designing and building the new $3.9 billion bridge. The court papers cite a lack of sufficient lighting as a cause of the crash after the barge owners were informed of the problem by boaters.
John, 35, of Nyack, had no comment as he entered the Rockland County Courthouse Wednesday morning. Appearing before state Supreme Court Justice William Kelly, he pleaded not guilty to an 18-count indictment that includes charges of first- and second-degree vehicular manslaughter, negligent homicide and operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Kelly said that John's blood-alcohol level "doesn't prove causation. That's a fact for the jury."
The judge set bail at $25,000, citing the deaths and the seriousness of the felony charges. John, who had been free, was taken into custody, but was expected to make bail. He is due back in court Jan. 3.
His lawyer, David Narain, said during court that a lack of sufficient lighting, and not John's drinking, caused the accident.
He said an independent investigation unearthed witnesses and evidence that he said will prove the lighting was the cause.
Afterward, Narain told reporters that he wasn't aware of his client's statement about drinking to the first responders. He declined further comment on the prosecutor's claim.
The families of Stewart and Lennon, as well as those injured, say John must take responsibility for the accident but have also blamed the barge lighting.
The U.S. Coast Guard says the barge lighting met federal standards, although the owners increased the lighting after the crash.
Frank Floriani, the Manhattan lawyer representing the Stewart and Lennon families in their civil lawsuits, said the barge owners had been told that the lighting was bad.
"Our information is whatever light was there could not be seen," Floriani told The Journal News. "It may have been blocked by construction equipment or it may not have been working… In effect, this was an accident waiting to happen."
A statement from Tappan Zee Constructors said project officials had not yet reviewed the lawsuits but asserted that the barges were properly moored and lighted.
Contributing: Khurram Saeed of The News Journal