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Att'y: Passing speedboat made boater swerve, causing deadly crash near Statue of Liberty

A boater charged with causing a deadly collision near the Statue of Liberty was swerving to avoid a sightseeing speedboat and struggling to see through its wake, his lawyer said Thursday.

The tour boat, called Shark, cut in front of Richard Aquilone's boat Friday evening, forcing him to veer away, and its wake made it hard him to see a 17-foot boat anchored nearby, said his lawyer, Marc Agnofilo.

Aquilone's 30-foot boat hit the anchored craft, killing 30-year-old Jijo Puthuvamkunnath, of Bergenfield, N.J.

Manhattan prosecutors said they were continuing to investigate the crash. Agnofilo said he expected the probe would ultimately show "the accident was tragic but wasn't Rich's fault."

"It's our position that the Shark boat caused the accident, not Rich," he said.

Stacey Sherman, a spokeswoman for Circle Line Downtown, which runs the 135-passenger speedboat, said Thursday that the Shark was the first vessel on the scene of the accident and that its captain called the Coast Guard and the New York Police Department and awaited their arrival. She said the Shark's crew was praised for its service. She wouldn't discuss Agnofilo's accusation that the Shark contributed to the accident.

Aquilone, a 39-year-old investment banker from Jersey City, N.J., has pleaded not guilty to charges that include vehicular manslaughter and running a boat under the influence of alcohol. Court documents say he had a blood-alcohol content of 0.06 — below New York's limit for driving while intoxicated but sufficient for the boating-under-the-influence charge. It's part of a separate state law.

Regardless, "we don't think that his state played any role in this event," Agnofilo said.

After a brief court appearance Thursday, Aquilone is due back in court Sept. 27. He's free on $50,000 bond in the meantime.

He was out on the water with his wife and three toddlers; no one on his boat was hurt. Puthuvamkunnath was boating with two friends, also 30, who suffered minor injuries.

Puthuvamkunnath was due to be married in August, his family said.

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