A Maine fishing boat captain who drank and used drugs on the evening before the vessel capsized in a 2014 storm pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges that he caused the deaths of his two crew members.

Christopher A. Hutchinson, 30, of Cushing, agreed to a four-year prison sentence on two counts of seaman’s manslaughter, charges filed under a little-used statute dating to the 1880s that establishes criminal misconduct or negligence by the captain of a vessel. A federal judge still needs to approve the plea agreement and proposed sentence.

The bodies of crewmen Tomas Hammond, 27, and Tyler Sawyer, 15, were never found. During the hearing Tuesday, Sawyer’s stepmother objected to the plea deal and asked for a more severe punishment.

Amie Sawyer told the judge that she wanted at least two more years added to the sentence, along with a provision that would take away Hutchinson’s fishing licenses.

“I think for two lives, that’s nothing,” she said.

Sawyer spoke quickly and choked back tears as she read from a typed statement. She talked about the firsts that she and her husband will not be able to experience with their son, such as seeing him get his driver’s license and have children.

“We do not have any closure,” Sawyer said. “I relive the death of my son every day.”

She noted that Hutchinson had admitted to overdosing on heroin last year and having his bail revoked. She called addiction “a horrible disease” and asked for Hutchinson’s fishing license to be taken away so no other families would experience what hers has.

Hutchinson was the captain of the lobster boat No Limits, which sank near Matinicus Island in a storm on Nov. 1, 2014. Court documents allege that he purchased 20, 30-milligram oxycodone pills from two separate drug dealers, smoked marijuana with Tyler Sawyer’s father, and drank a rum and coke at a Rockland restaurant on Halloween 2014. He then departed on a fishing trip at 1 a.m. from Linda Bean’s dock in Tenants Harbor. Rain was beginning to fall, and the forecast called for a gale.

As the winds gusted and the waves topped 14 feet, the 45-foot vessel flipped. An emergency radio beacon activated at 1:30 p.m. that Nov. 1. A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter found Hutchinson in a life raft without a survival suit or life preserver at 4 p.m. The bow of the No Limits was spotted by the helicopter at 5 p.m. with no signs of life. The helicopter transported Hutchinson to the hospital for treatment.

The Coast Guard issued letters of presumed death for both crewmen late in November 2014. Federal prosecutors charged Hutchinson in 2016, and he faced up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count.

Blood tests conducted that night revealed Hutchinson had oxycodone and marijuana in his system. However, in January a federal judge ruled that the U.S. Attorney’s Office could not use the results of those tests at trial unless Hutchinson testified that he did not use any drugs.

Travis Sawyer, Tyler Sawyer’s father, told the Coast Guard that Hutchinson had purchased oxycodone the day before the boat sank and should be tested for drugs. Law enforcement took a blood sample from Hutchinson before he was released from Maine Medical Center in Portland. The judge ultimately said investigators failed to obtain a warrant and did not have probable cause to take the sample.

The prosecutors filed an appeal of that decision, and then withdrew it. Jury selection was scheduled for next week until the parties filed their plea agreement with the court this month.

The deal that included the guilty plea calls for a 48-month sentence with credit for time served. Upon release, Hutchinson would be subject to supervised release for three years.

Hutchinson, who has been held at the Cumberland County Jail, appeared in court wearing an orange jumpsuit. He spoke only to answer the judge’s questions.

U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby ordered a pre-sentencing report, which he will review along with the plea agreement. If he disagrees with the sentence he could reject the deal, which would send the case to trial.

Hutchinson’s attorney, Michael Turndorf, said he believes the proposed sentence was appropriate, but he knows nothing can replace the two victims.

“It’s a tough case all the way around,” he said.

U.S. Attorney Halsey Frank declined to comment until after the sentencing.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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Twitter: megan_e_doyle


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