A Cushing lobsterman facing manslaughter charges in the deaths of two crewmen in 2014 was ordered freed on a $10,000 unsecured bond Thursday.

Christopher Hutchinson was arrested Monday and charged with manslaughter. Federal prosecutors accuse him of drinking alcohol and using oxycodone and marijuana before taking his lobster boat and two crewmen out on Nov. 1, 2014. Officials haven’t explained why they waited more than two years to file the charges.

Hutchinson ran into a storm and his boat, No Limits, flipped and sank west of Matinicus Island. His two crewmen, Tomas Hammond, 26, and Tyler Sawyer, 15, were never found, while Hutchinson, 28, managed to get into a life raft and was rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter.

Hutchinson pleaded not guilty to the charges Monday. He is being held in the Cumberland County Jail, and appeared in U.S. District Court in Portland in a dark blue prison jumpsuit, with his wrists and ankles shackled.

He didn’t look at his girlfriend or father, who were in the hearing room as he was led in and his handcuffs were removed.

Federal prosecutors initially opposed Hutchinson’s release until trial, but agreed Thursday after federal Magistrate Judge John H. Rich III imposed conditions, including a prohibition on travel outside Maine and contact with the victims’ families.


Assistant U.S. Attorney Halsey Frank told Rich that Sawyer’s family opposed allowing Hutchinson to use his current lobster boat, but Rich said he would allow it as long as Hutchinson follows marine safety laws.

Hutchinson has been charged under the Seaman’s Manslaughter statute, which is used in cases of alleged misconduct or negligence by those responsible for managing vessels. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 if convicted.

Prosecutors say that, in addition to the drug use, Hutchinson ignored warnings of dangerous seas and rough weather and headed out to haul traps early on Nov. 1, 2014. After deciding to head back to Tenants Harbor later that morning, prosecutors say, Hutchinson tried to “surf” the waves and ended up capsizing the boat.

Hutchinson said he felt his 45-foot boat was large enough to handle the worsening weather, but the wheelhouse windows blew out and the boat capsized.

Hutchinson said he never saw Hammond or Sawyer, and clung to the hull of the boat until a life raft popped to the surface and he swam to it and got in. The life raft’s inflation triggered an emergency radio beacon that alerted the Coast Guard. Hutchinson fired off a flare when he saw the Coast Guard helicopter that was searching for him.

His trial is scheduled for February, but both Frank and Hutchinson’s lawyer, Philip Cohen of Waldoboro, said they expect it will start later in the year.


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