Tugboat captain gets 6 months for fatal explosion

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Tugboat Capt. Dennis Michael Egan was sentenced Friday to six months in prison for an explosion on board his vessel that killed a crew member on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal in 2005.

But while U.S. District Judge James Zagel said Egan’s behavior deserved prison time, he left open the possibility that the 40-year-old man who, his attorney said is obese and suffers from sleep apnea, might yet avoid that fate.

“I have some concerns in my mind over the suitability of incarceration due to (Egan’s) health,” Zagel said, as he ordered an investigation into the matter.

The sentence was far lower than what prosecutors sought, a term within federal guidelines of about five to six years.

In June 2014, after a two-and-a-half week trial, Zagel found Egan guilty of negligent manslaughter in the crew member’s death.

Zagel ruled Egan illegally allowed deckhand Alex Oliva, 29, to use the naked flame of a propane blowtorch 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.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Chapman said in court Friday that while Egan operated in a kind of “Wild West” corporate culture, he was also his own man.

“He makes his own decisions,” Chapman said. “He made his own decisions in January 2005.”

Egan’s attorney, William Walters, argued for probation, saying his client has no criminal history and is a man with a “good moral character and is decent to the core.”

Zagel also ordered Egan’s employer, a company owned by the tugboat captain’s uncle, to pay about $5.3 million in restitution.

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