ST. LOUIS • A St. Louis jury has ordered a St. Louis towboat operator to pay $4.5 million to the family of a crew member who drowned in 2015 when the towboat he was working on sank in the Mississippi River.
The Charlie Boy, a 61-foot harbor boat that shuttles barges locally, struck a barge, capsized and sank about 6:30 p.m. July 19, 2015, on the Missouri side of the river near East Davis Street and Broadway in St. Louis. Two other crewmen escaped.
A worker, Oliver Johnson, 51, of St. Louis, drowned due to what his family claimed in a 2016 lawsuit was an “unseaworthy” boat. The suit, filed by Johnson’s wife and daughter, blamed the boat’s operator, Osage Marine Services Inc., for Johnson’s death, claiming the boat lacked water-tight doors and that Johnson’s fellow crew members lacked the competence to operate a safe boat.
Johnson was trapped in the towboat’s galley, drowned in the sinking boat, and his body was recovered about a month later, according to Patrick Bader, a lawyer for Johnson’s family. The boat sank during what Bader described as dangerous river conditions above flood stage. Bader said a U.S. Coast Guard investigation concluded the boat was unsafe and that its captain erred by maneuvering far enough into the river to avoid barge traffic.
Bader also said the Charlie Boy was previously named the Valley Sunshine. In May 1996, the Valley Sunshine sank in the Mississippi River south of the MacArthur Bridge, killing three crew members.
The two-week trial ended Friday in St. Louis Circuit Court with 11 of the 12 jurors finding Osage liable for Johnson’s death.
“More than anything, I think it sends a message about safety and taking responsibility when one of their employees dies,” Bader said of jury’s verdict.
A lawyer for Osage Marine could not be reached Monday.