April 8, 2013

Trial begins in Maine death of Greek port captain

The widow of the man crushed by machinery sued the operator of the Portland marine terminal.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — A piece of machinery weighing more than a ton slid across the deck of the bulk carrier vessel MV Calypso N as a Greek port captain in its path cried out in English, "No," before it crushed his body against the rails of the ship, docked in a Portland marine terminal.

The Greek man, Ioannis Zagklaras, worked for the company that owned the road salt cargo that filled the Calypso N's holds and had flown to the United States to see it unloaded.

But Zagklaras was so severely injured in the accident at Merrill's Marine Terminal in the city's West End on Oct. 6, 2008, that he never returned to his home country before dying in Portland months later as a result of his injuries.

His wife, Eirini Zagklaras, sued Sprague Energy Corp. -- the owner and operator of the marine terminal -- alleging that the company's negligence led to her husband's injuries. She is seeking an unspecified amount in damages and more than $1.2 million for his medical costs and money to pay for his funeral.

The trial in her wrongful death lawsuit began Monday in U.S. District Court in Portland.

The port captain's 30-year-old son, Vasilios Zagklaras, came from Athens to attend the trial with his mother and sister, 32-year-old Maria. Vasilios Zagklaras testified as a witness in English. His mother and sister are expected to testify Tuesday when a Greek translator is available.

"It was very devastating for my family. It wounds us that my father went through all the things he went through. There was a long period of mourning in my home," he said. "We were used to my father being away; we all felt like he would come home. We were in denial."

One of her Eirini Zagklaras' attorneys, David Anderson, said in his opening statement that testimony would show that a crane aboard the Calypso N moved unexpectedly, causing a cable to pull a 2,300-pound piece of cable reel machinery across the deck as Ioannis Zagklaras tried to move it with a hand-operated, hydraulic pallet jack.

"As he began to move it, it accelerated toward him. Captain Zagklaras yelled, 'No,' in English," Anderson said. "It just kept coming and coming, and it crushed Captain Zagklaras against the aft stanchion."

The accident crushed Zagklaras' pelvis and led to the amputation of one leg at the hip and more than 22 operations and procedures at Maine Medical Center. Zagklaras lived for more than five months after the accident, dying on March 13, 2009, at age 67.

One of Sprague Energy's attorneys, Michael Savasuk, said in his opening statement that there is no evidence that the crane moved as Ioannis Zagklaras jacked up the cable reel on the pallet jack. He said the natural slope of the deck is what caused the machinery to slide and pin him against the railing.

"As soon as the port captain picks up the deck arrangement (another term for the cable reel machinery), it takes off in his direction. It happened just like that," Savasuk said, snapping his fingers for emphasis.

Ioannis Zagklaras worked for Armada Shipping Co. to oversee the loading and unloading of the Calypso N's cargo, a load of road salt brought from Chile to Maine in anticipation of winter weather. As a port captain, he did not travel with the ship, but instead flew to different ports around the world.

The dock workers, called stevedores, all worked for Sprague Energy and unloaded the ship using cranes, hoppers, trucks, front-end loaders and bulldozers.

A third party, Leopard Shipping, owned the ship, and none of its crew participated in the loading or unloading.

The accident occurred as the stevedores had partly finished unloading the salt from the ship's first hold and after a Sprague Energy foreman, Randy Bourgoin, went to get Ioannis Zagklaras, whose job it was as port captain to help shift the cable reel apparatus used by the crane crew to the second hold.

Bourgoin said he had told the crane operator via a two-way radio to move the arm, or boom, of the crane toward the rear of the ship and gave the order "hold that" or "in position" to get him to stop the crane.

Ioannis Zagklaras then retrieved the pallet jack to jack up the cable reel machinery and move it from the first cargo hold to its second cargo hold. The machinery is used to keep the crane's cables taut and control the electrical cable that powers the jaws used to scoop the rock salt.

"Before he moved it, it went in the direction of the railing," Bourgoin said. "When he shouted, 'No,' it was about an instant until he was pinned against the railing."

Bourgoin was the first one to reach Ioannis Zagklaras and used his own body as a wedge to force the machinery away from the railing to free the pinned man.

"At that point, he was able to hang onto me, and we went down on the deck," Bourgoin said.

Dr. Gene Grindlander, who was Ioannis Zagklaras' primary surgeon during his months at Maine Medical Center, said his patient survived a dangerous amputation, had multiple blood infections, suffered massive organ failure, and underwent heart surgery among other procedures before dying of a final infection.

"I would say he was in a lot of pain, but I would say that he never complained about anything. He was a very stoic man," Grindlander said. "All of the surgeries were a direct result of the injuries he sustained."

Another of Eirini Zagklaras' attorneys, Carolyn Latti, said in court papers that Sprague Energy intentionally destroyed surveillance video evidence of the Calypso N and the dock from the day of the accident.

"The Plaintiff will introduce evidence that Defendant Sprague's present counsel was at the dock investigating the accident and taking photographs the next morning, that Sprague anticipated litigation arising from Zagklaras' injury, that at the time of the decision to allow video to be destroyed Defendant Sprague was represented by counsel in connection with this claim and in anticipation of litigation," Latti said in court papers.

The jury trial, presided over by U.S. District Judge George Singal, is expected to take up to eight days.

The lawsuit was first filed by Zagklaras' widow in September 2010 in Cumberland County Superior Court. It was subsequently withdrawn from the county court and refiled in U.S. District Court in Portland.

Staff Writer Scott Dolan can be contacted at: 791-6304 or at:

sdolan@mainetoday.com

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