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Best man's body believed found in Hudson crash

3:12 PM, Jul 28, 2013   |    comments
In this still frame made from WABC-TV video, Carol Stewart, center, mother of missing woman Lindsey Stewart, speaks to an official about the ongoing search for her daughter following a boating accident on the Hudson River near Piermont, N.Y. on Saturday, July 27, 2013. The Coast Guard says the recreational boat struck a barge near the Tappan Zee Bridge on Friday night, sending two people into the water who haven't been found and injuring four others. (AP Photo/WABC-TV)
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PIERMONT, N.Y. - A recreational jet skiier spotted a body believed to be Mark Lennon, the man thrown from the powerboat that crashed into a barge near the Tapan Zee Bridge on the Hudson River late Friday night, authorities said Sunday afternoon. The bride-to-be also was killed, and four people, including the groom, were seriously injured.

Rockland County Sheriff Louis Falco said the jet skiier, a civilian not involved in the search, spotted the body a mile south of the Piermont Pier at 11:12 a.m.

Rescue boats had resumed the search Sunday morning from the Tappan Zee Marina around 10:45 a.m., accompanied by searchers using personal watercraft to cover the area around the marina and the Tappan Zee Bridge. Search activity halted before 1 p.m., and the discovery was announced soon after.

Lennon, 30, was to be best man at the Aug. 10 wedding of Lindsey Stewart, 30, and Brian Bond. Stewart's body was found Saturday.

Bond was at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, N.Y., being treated for serious injuries, officials said.

The group's 19-foot powerboat set out Friday evening from Piermont headed toward Tarrytown, authorities said. It crashed into one of three construction barges moored just south of the bridge shortly before 11 p.m. in what one veteran investigator called the worst boating accident he had ever seen.

The boat operator, Jojo K. John, 35, of Nyack, N.Y., was charged Saturday with a felony count of vehicular manslaughter and three felony counts of second-degree vehicular assault. Authorities believe alcohol was a factor based on a blood sample and statements from witnesses, Rockland County Undersheriff Robert Van Cura said.

Meanwhile Sunday, parishioners gathered at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Pearl River, N.Y., where the couple were to be wed next month.

At the church, the Rev. John Havrilla urged about 200 people in attendance to pray for the families of "two beautiful young people whose lives were filled with hope and dreams, and that has been snuffed away."

A pastor at Good Shepherd for 40 years, Havrilla said he remembered both Bond and Stewart as children. They attended Sunday school at the church, had their confirmation there, and Stewart was heavily involved in its youth programs as a child, Havrilla said.

"Lindsey was always just a gem, a sweetheart. She was an important part of our congregation," the pastor said in an interview. "And Brian was always a delightful kid, a character in many ways."

With the couple planning to wed at the church Aug. 10, Havrilla said it had been an especially happy time for Bond and Stewart, who had "looked forward to raising their own kids, their own loving children.

"Her loss, and the wedding, just makes this even more of a heartache," Havrilla said.

Before the search for Lennon was called off Sunday, friends of people involved checked in on the progress of the search in Piermont, N.Y.

A friend defended John, who was driving the boat.

John "would never, ever want to put his friends in danger," said Sheryl Palacio, 35, of Valley Cottage, N.Y., a friend of John and Bond who was in Piermont looking in on the search effort.

Palacio described John as a "jovial, loving person."

"I know they charged him," she said of John. "I don't know the situation. Knowing all of them, they were probably having a great time.

"It's too painful to come out here. Seeing the search and rescue crews is very hard-hitting."

A friend of Bond's family, Mitchell Turk, 66, who visited Bond's family earlier in the day, said the would-be groom is undergoing surgery Monday and is expected to make a full recovery.

"It hit them like a ton of bricks, as it would any parent when you have a child who should be celebrating their wedding in a few weeks," Turk said.

The horrific crash also focuses attention on the safety of recreational boaters while the five-year, $3.9 billion bridge replacement is underway. Construction barges have been moored near the bridge since April. Some boaters said they are hard to see at night, while the state insisted that all safety precautions, including lighting, have been in place.

"The barge had some lights on it," Van Cura said. "Whether or not it was properly lighted is part of the investigation."

After the fatal crash, Tappan Zee Constructors, the consortium building the bridge, said it will immediately place additional lighting on all of its barges, vessels and moorings as a precaution, according to a state official familiar with the project.

John, who is in Nyack Hospital, was arraigned and remanded to the custody of the Rockland County sheriff on $250,000 bail. The charges against him came hours after searchers pulled a body matching the description of Stewart from the Hudson River about one-eighth of a mile from shore between the bridge and Piermont.

The Rockland Sheriff's marine unit made the discovery after hours of searching that began Friday night soon after a 911 call was received from the boat.

By early Saturday afternoon, rescuers categorized the search for Lennon as a recovery effort. It was called off Saturday at 5 p.m. and resumed Sunday at 10:45 a.m.

Bond and Stewart lived on the first floor of a small two-story house at the entrance to the Tappan Zee Marina, facing Piermont Avenue. They had rented there for several years, said Roger Schneider, the marina owner and their landlord, who described them as a lovely couple.

The three other victims, including John, were friends of the couple, authorities said. All remained Saturday at Westchester Medical Center where they are being treated for head injuries. They are expected to recover, authorities said. They would not release identities of all the victims.

Two of the survivors were wearing life jackets, investigators said. They did not know if Lennon was also wearing a flotation device. The body presumed to be Stewart's was not wearing a life jacket.

Investigators are still interviewing survivors to determine what led to the crash. The boat's bow appeared to be heavily damaged as it was loaded Saturday morning onto a flatbed truck from the dock at Cornetta's Seafood Restaurant and Marina.

People who boat in the area said that the construction barges do not have enough lighting.

Craig and Celeste Kmiecik, of Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J., who keep their 28-foot boat at Tappan Zee Marina in Piermont, were on the vessel Friday night en route to a barbecue in Irvington.

They said the water was calm and the night crystal clear, but nonetheless it was difficult to see the black barges in the dark.

"If you don't have radar, there's no way of seeing what's in front of you," Craig Kmiecik said. "No doubt that's what happened."

There are numerous barges moored north and south of the bridge - some holding cranes and others holding equipment - for the project. More are expected to be put in place as the massive building project gets underway.

Investigators will look at issues related to the lighting on the barges, Van Cura said.

"I certainly think it could have been brighter," he said.

The New York State Thruway Authority is reviewing safety procedures on the river as part of the project, Brian Conybeare, a special adviser on the bridge replacement project, said in a statement Saturday.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families during this difficult time," the statement read.

Tappan Zee Constructors reported to the Thruway Authority that all Coast Guard lighting requirements were met and that the barges were properly lit Friday night, the statement said.

"All lighting was checked Saturday morning and is fully operational at all barge locations associated with the project," according to the statement.

Both the New York State Thruway Authority and the builders have worked with the Army Corps of Engineers and Coast Guard to determine approved locations for the barges, and appropriate information has been provided to be included in Notices to Mariners, Coneybeare said.

Tappan Zee Constructors said Saturday that it would have no comment citing the pending investigation.

Calls to the Coast Guard were not returned Saturday.

William Barbera, chief of patrol of the Rockland County Sheriff's Office, said 10 agencies had boats in the water Friday night and Saturday. The Rockland County helicopter was also brought to search the 3-mile-wide river. Westchester County police deployed a high-tech boat and helicopter to assist the search.

Detective C.J. Westbrook, with the Rockland County marine unit, said he and two crewmembers searched the waters until 2:30 a.m., using infrared technology to scan for survivors. He called the wreck one of the worst boating accidents he's encountered during his 13 years with the marine unit.

Anthony Apolito, 18, a valet working at the Pier 701 bar and restaurant, described a horrific scene once the injured boaters were brought to shore at the Tappan Zee Marina.

"There was blood on arms, everywhere," he said. "I don't even know how to explain it. It was depressing."

One man had his face drenched in blood and some wore neck braces, Apolito said, adding that most appeared disoriented.

"All of the questions they were being asked - half of them they couldn't even answer," he said, adding that none seemed to know what had caused the crash.

Piermont Fire Chief Bill Cavanaugh said that the marina was used as a staging area for the victims while the Piermont Pier was used as a command post for the first responders, officials said.

Cavanaugh said that firefighters had been training to conduct rescues, particularly in anticipation of construction barges being used for the Tappan Zee Bridge project.

"I didn't think we would get a boat accident of this magnitude so soon," he said.

Contributing: Khurram Saeed, Hoa Nguyen, Ned P. Rauch, Shawn Cohen, Mareesa Nicosia and Swapna Venugopal of The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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