Tugboat captain’s conviction tossed after 6-month stint in jail

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Sun-Times file photo

Nearly a year after a tugboat captain finished his six-month jail sentence, a federal judge has acquitted him and his family’s business of negligently causing the death of a crew member who died in a 2005 barge explosion.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel found Dennis Egan, 38, and Egan Marine Corporation guilty in 2014. The judge said 29-year-old Alex Oliva had been following Egan’s orders when he used a propane torch to warm a frozen cargo pump, causing the explosion along the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal near Cicero Avenue that killed Oliva and spilled the barge’s 600,000 gallons of oil.

Egan had been piloting the tugboat Lisa E, which had been pushing the barge.

But the feds had already failed in an earlier civil case to prove that Oliva had been using the torch. And because the burden of proof is lighter in a civil case than in a criminal case — where the feds must offer proof beyond a reasonable doubt — the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Egan’s criminal convictions last December.

U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman formally acquitted Egan and Egan Marine on Monday. Prosecutors did not object. Egan had also been ordered to pay $6.7 million in restitution. In granting Egan’s motion Monday, Guzman ordered any money paid by Egan returned to him.

“Mr. Egan has suffered greatly based on this lengthy, and ultimately unsuccessful, prosecution,” wrote Johanna M. Christiansen, Egan’s defense attorney. “He served six months in prison, has nearly served his entire [term] of supervised release, and [has] been unable to work in his chosen profession because of the felony charges and conviction. He would like to start his life over immediately.”

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