89 F.2d 166 (2nd Cir. 1937), 11, United States v. Abbott

Docket Nº:11.
Citation:89 F.2d 166
Party Name:UNITED STATES v. ABBOTT et al.
Case Date:April 07, 1937
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Page 166

89 F.2d 166 (2nd Cir. 1937)



ABBOTT et al.

No. 11.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.

April 7, 1937

Burlingham, Veeder, Clark & Hupper, of New York City (Chauncey I. Clark and Eugene Underwood, both of New York City, of counsel), for appellants Abbott and Warms.

Lamar Hardy, U.S. Atty., of New York City (F. W. H. Adams, Joseph Prendergast, and Walter B. Lockwood, all of New York City, of counsel), for the United States of America.

Before MANTON, L. HAND, and AUGUSTUS N. HAND, Circuit Judges.

AUGUSTUS N. HAND, Circuit Judge.

The above-named defendants were all convicted of violating section 461, title 18, United States Code (18 U.S.C.A. § 461) which reads as follows:

'Loss of life by misconduct of officers of vessels; liability of corporation officer. Every captain, engineer, pilot, or other person employed on any steamboat, or vessel, by whose misconduct, negligence, or inattention to his duties on such vessel the life of any person is destroyed, and every owner, charterer, inspector, or other public officer, through whose fraud, neglect, connivance,

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misconduct, or violation of law the life of any person is destroyed, shall be fined not more than $10,000, or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both. When the owner or charterer of any steamboat or vessel shall be a corporation, any executive officer of such corporation, for the time being actually charged with the control and management of the operation, equipment, or navigation of such steamboat or vessel, who has knowingly and willfully caused or allowed such fraud, neglect, connivance, misconduct, or violation of law, by which the life of any person is destroyed, shall be fined not more than $10,000, or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.'

The defendants Eben S. Abbott and William F. Warms are the only defendants who have appealed. The former was the chief engineer and the latter the master of the steamship Morro Castle that met with disaster on September 8, 1934, from a fire which arose when she was off the New Jersey coast and en route from Havana to New York. As a result of the fire and the panic which ensured, upward of one hundred of those on board were burned to death or drowned.

The Morro Castle had 318 passengers and a crew of 231. Robert R. Wilmott was her master when she sailed from Havana for New York, but he died about 7:45 p. m. on September 7, 1934, and Warms, being the chief officer, took over the command of the vessel. Wilmott had been master since April, 1932. Probably just before 3 a.m. on September 8, 1934, Warms was notified by two night watchmen and a sailor named Dunn that smoke was issuing from a ventilator on the port side of the bridge deck and that there was a fire in the writing room. Warms himself then went to the place where the ventilator came out on the bridge deck and saw smoke issuing from it. Thereafter the indicator on the bridge showed the spread of fire to other parts of the ship and Warms rang the fire alarm and sent one Welch, the bridge lookout, below to arouse the boatswain and crew and also told acting third officer Hansen to take care of the passengers. At about the same time he had a CQ or 'stand-by' signal sent out by the radio operator. The first and second officers, whom Warms had sent down to deal with the fire, thereafter reported that it was out of control and at 3:18 a.m. Warms ordered an SOS issued. The government's contention is that he learned of the fire at 2:40 and that in spite of its gravity he neglected to send out the SOS for over half an hour and also that he was unduly slow in sending in the fire alarm. There was evidence, on which the government relies, that he neglected to follow up his orders in respect to the passengers and failed to give directions to have them taken to the starboard lifeboats on A deck, and that as a result of the delay many of them jumped into the sea and were drowned and others were burned to death, although six lifeboats were safely launched and reached the shore carrying about 90 members of the crew and only 7 passengers and to a great extent unoccupied. It is charged that Warms failed to see that directions were given to close the fire screen doors to prevent the spread of the fire, or to put water in the fire lines. His answer to those charges was in substance...

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