Tennessee Towboat Captain Indicted

The Waterways Journal
21 February 2011

The operator of a towboat involved in an incident in June in which two fishermen lost their lives was indicted for criminally negligent homicide by a federal grand jury February 9 in Tennessee.

The indictment named towboat operator Warren Luetke, 39, as criminally negligent. Luetke was operating the mv. Bearcat, owned by Chattanooga-based Serodino Inc., when the 647-foot three-barge tow collided with the fishing boat. A third man, David Wilkey, 37, was injured but survived. Tim Spidle, 45, of Elizabethton, Tenn., and Richard Wilkey, 52, of Soddy-Daisy, Tenn., were killed in the June 19 incident on the Tennessee River in Chickamauga Lake as they were fishing from the 1977 16-foot boat Glastron.

In December, Serodino filed papers in U.S. District Court denying all liability. Serodino's attorneys say the incident "was proximately caused and/or contributed to solely by the actions and/or negligence of Richard Wilkey, Tim Spidle, David Wilkey and others, for which Serodino has no legal liability," according to The Chattanoogan.

Investigators with the Tennessee Wild-life Resources Agency consulted with the Hamilton County district attorney's office for six months before criminal charges were filed.

On June 26, 2009, the Bearcat was involved in a collision on Watts Bar Lake that resulted in the death of fisherman Jones Bower Bare, 53, of Trap Hill, N.C. Another man, not Luetke, was operating the Bearcat at the time. A grand jury in that case declined to recommend any charges. Bare's family filed a civil lawsuit against Serodino asking $5 million in compensatory damages that is still ongoing.