NEW YORK (AP) – The former doctor of the Staten Island ferry pilot who passed out before a crash that killed 11 people was sentenced to a year’s probation Friday for hiding the pilot’s medical problems from the Coast Guard.

Victims’ families said they were outraged.

William Tursi, 56, received probation, six months home confinement, 300 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine for failing to disclose Assistant Captain Richard Smith’s high blood pressure and use of medication on a pilot’s licensing form in 2000. Tursi could have received as much as six months in prison under advisory federal sentencing guidelines.

Prosecutors said they believed Smith’s blood-pressure medication contributed to his blackout at the controls of the Andrew J. Barberi, which slammed into a concrete maintenance pier on Oct. 15, 2003, killing 11 people and wounding dozens.

“Somebody has to be held accountable for these 11 people,” Vincent Ferrante, whose 26-year-old son was killed, said after the sentencing.

U.S. District Judge Edward Korman said, however, that the government had failed to prove a link between Smith’s blackout and Tursi’s failure to fill out boxes that would have indicated high blood-pressure and prescription drug use.

Prosecution experts were not credible when they asserted that Smith’s medication caused him to lose consciousness before the ferry crash, Korman said.

“This absence of proof is an important factor to be taken into account,” he said.

Tursi asked for mercy from the court, citing his record as a decorated military physician and his unblemished history as a doctor on Staten Island.

“I’m extremely sorry for what has happened to me,” he said. “I hope you’ll take into account the life I’ve led so far and the service I’ve provided to my country and community.”

Tursi’s medical license is under review. His lawyer said during the hearing that he expected it would eventually be revoked.

Smith has pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges and is awaiting sentencing. His former captain, Michael Gansas, struck a deal with prosecutors in their case against ferry supervisor Patrick Ryan, who is also awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to manslaughter.

Gansas initially was accused of making false statements for telling Coast Guard investigators that he was in the pilot house when Smith passed out.

In a television interview on Thursday, Gansas said he initially lied about where he was during the crash because he wanted to share the blame.

Gansas, who was fired soon after the crash for failing to cooperate with the investigation and had not spoken publicly, told WCBS-TV he rushed from the rear of the ferry to the pilot house after the crash.

“I noticed Richard Smith with his hands over his head, his eyes, and he was saying, “I must have dozed off. I fell asleep,”‘ Gansas said.

The ferry crashed as it was docking on a run from Manhattan, tearing a 250-foot-long gash that ran 8 feet deep into its hull.


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