NTSB Focuses on Ferry Crash Pilot's Medication

A mangled Staten Island ferry (search), its flags at half-mast, was moved Saturday from the terminal where it rammed a concrete pier earlier in the week, a crash that killed 10 people and set up the city for an anticipated stream of lawsuits.

The first notice of claim against the city was filed Friday on behalf of a ferry passenger and her 7-year-old son, seeking $10 million, said Staten Island attorney Anthony Bisignano (search). Dinah Washington, 28, and her son Jalil claimed they suffered injuries from head to toe in the crash.

Attorney Wayne Cohen, representing the wife of Louis Robinson, a passenger who died in the crash, said Saturday his notice of claim on a $500 million suit was in the works.

"This is the initial step," said Cohen, adding his papers will be filed Monday.

The promises of lawsuits came within four days of the crash, and before the National Transportation Safety Board (search) had finished the investigation into its cause.

NTSB investigators completed the bulk of their work aboard the ferry, which sat near the Staten Island shoreline as they sifted through its twisted metal, splintered wood and broken glass, and are now increasingly focusing on the crew, particularly its pilot.

The NTSB issued a subpoena Friday seeking blood and urine samples from pilot Richard Smith to determine if he was taking prescription medicine on the day of the crash. The ferry's captain, Michael Gansas, told investigators that he saw Smith unconscious and slumped over the controls before the crash.

Smith, who authorities say tried to commit suicide after the wreck, remained hospitalized in critical condition Saturday. Investigators hoped to determine if high blood pressure medication caused him to collapse.

Gansas is to be interviewed by the NTSB Tuesday. He will likely face questions about whether he was in the pilot house with Smith at the time of the crash. City procedures require both men to be there when the ferry is moving, but investigators say they have received conflicting reports about Gansas' location.

The Andrew J. Barberi was going full throttle, about 17 mph, when it went off course Wednesday afternoon and hit the concrete maintenance pier hundreds of feet from its normal slip, crushing the ferry's lower side.

In addition to the 10 people killed, more than 60 were injured, including three who lost limbs. Fourteen people were still hospitalized as of Saturday evening.

NTSB officials have discounted weather and mechanical problems as possible causes of the crash.

Legal experts predicted the city would face a deluge of lawsuits. A federal maritime doctrine allows compensation for anyone suffering physical or emotional distress — which might allow any of the 1,500 passengers aboard to bring a case.

Any passenger considering a lawsuit has 90 days to file a notice of claim. Once that is done, plaintiffs have one year to file the actual lawsuit.

At the Staten Island ferry terminal Saturday morning, three tug boats nudged the crippled ferry away from the docks and toward the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Police and Coast Guard boats served as escorts, and local and federal officials monitored its progress from onboard and from the shore.