Inquiry into Lady Mary sinking told skipper and crewman used marijuana

By Calvin Palmer

The captain and a crew member of the scallop boat that sank off the coast of New Jersey in March had traces of marijuana in their blood, the inquiry into the sinking heard yesterday.

Timothy Smith had high levels of the drug, said Dr Anthony Costantino who analyzed the blood samples on behalf of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Smith’s brother, Roy Smith Jr, the skipper of the Lady Mary, also tested positive but the level was lower.

Stevenson Weeks, the lawyer for the Smiths’ father, said the level may have been caused by second-inhalation from Tim Smith’s marijuana use.

Costantino could not determine when Smith ingested the drug or whether he was impaired at the time of the sinking, which claimed the lives of six of the seven men aboard.

Earlier, the inquiry into the March 24 sinking off Cape May heard that the way the Lady Mary is resting on the ocean floor – upright and with her nets loaded scallops – suggests it did not roll over and sink.

Weeks put forward the theory that the boat was pulled downward when its dredge gear became entangled in rigging from a passing ship or was snagged by something on the ocean floor.

“Vessels often tilt or flip as they sink,” Weeks said. “That a full catch remains in its nets is evidence that the Lady Mary was dragged down.”

The Coast Guard declined to comment.

Another mystery surrounding the sinking  is why none of the ships fishing in or passing nearby heard Mayday calls.

“We are trying to understand why all those fishing vessels who were right there didn’t hear something,” said Lt Tim Marriott of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Marriot’s  findings, based on satellite information, showed 22 vessels were within a six-mile radius of the Lady Mary. One freighter, the Alexandria Dawn, may have passed within 800 yards. Another vessel, the Cap Beatrice, was within one mile.

The Lady Mary was dredging in a deep-water area known as Elephant Trunk when it went down in rough seas just before dawn.

Four crewmen were never seen again. Two bodies were plucked from the water by the Coast Guard about three hours later. A seventh man, Jose Luis Arias, was rescued.

Arias told his rescuers that he was asleep when the ship began to sink at around 5:00 a.m. He quickly slipped on a Neoprene survival suit before plunging into the water and clinging to a piece of driftwood for two hours before being picked up by the Coast Guard.

Today Arias told the inquiry that he agreed with Weeks’  theory that the Lady Mary ‘s fishing gear became entangled and the vessel was dragged under.

Arias said the Lady Mary’s engines were still working, but the boat was not moving as it tilted to the left and took on water.

 The hearing is expected to last through the week.

[Based on reports by The Star-Ledger, newsday.com and Philadelphia Inquirer.]

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