A Cushing, Maine, lobsterman is being charged with manslaughter in the deaths of two crewmen who were lost at sea during a storm in 2014.
Christopher Hutchinson’s 45-foot fiberglass boat, No Limits, capsized and sank in heavy seas on Nov. 1, 2014, while returning to port after hauling lobster traps for several hours. The two crewmen aboard — Tomas Hammond, 26, and Tyler Sawyer, 15 — were never found after the boat overturned. Hutchinson, 28, made it into a life raft and was rescued.
The boat had been hauling in a fishing area called Eleven Mile Ridge, despite National Weather Service warnings of dangerous weather and sea conditions. In interviews shortly after the incident, Hutchinson claimed that he had never seen a storm pick up so quickly.
“We got hit by one large wave, and that pushed us into another. The windows to the wheelhouse blew out, and we began taking on water quickly,” Hutchinson said in the month after the sinking. “I’m not 100 percent sure what happened next, but the next thing I recall is being in the wheelhouse and the boat is upside down in the water.”
A weather buoy nearby reported wind gusts of 40 knots and waves up to 14 feet.
While initial reports focused mainly on weather conditions, news of his arrest and charges have revolved around reports that he had drugs in his system at the time of the fatal storm.
According to an indictment filed last week, after Hutchinson was rescued and flown to a hospital, doctors took a sample of his blood and found traces of Oxycodone and marijuana. Prosecutors have claimed that Hutchinson consumed the drugs with alcohol the night before the early-morning trip.
Hutchinson is charged with two counts of seaman’s manslaughter. The little-used Seaman’s Manslaughter Statute has been part of the U.S. criminal code dating to the 1800s; it has held precedent in cases of misconduct or negligence by anyone responsible for managing a vessel.
Hutchinson made his first court appearance in Portland on Monday. He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
According to reports, the crewmen who were lost were not wearing safety equipment at the time of the incident.