The captain of a charter vessel that sails out of Camden during the summer is restricted to St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, as he awaits trial on a charge of causing the death of a crew member three years ago.

A federal grand jury in the Virgin Islands indicted Captain Richard Smith on July 12 for seaman’s manslaughter. The indictment was sealed and Smith was arrested Nov. 2 after arriving in the Virgin Islands where he operates a charter business during the winter.

The indictment alleges that Smith, as captain and owner of the sailing vessel Cimarron, engaged in misconduct, negligence and inattention to duties that led to the death of David Pontius on Oct. 25, 2015, off Cape Fear, North Carolina.

The 66-year-old captain was released on $25,000 bond but terms of the release require Smith to reside in St. Thomas and that he must be in his residence from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily.

His attorney has asked for Smith to be able to return to the mainland United States. A hearing on his motion has yet to be scheduled.

The 43-foot long sailing vessel was on its way from Maine to the Virgin Islands in October 2015, according to paperwork filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. One crew member had to leave the vessel and Pontius became part of the four-member crew on Oct. 21 at Beaufort, N.C.


Court documents stated that the captain and other crew members had never met Pontius before his arrival on the vessel. Soon after the vessel left Beaufort, Pontius became extremely sea sick, according to court documents.

Over the next few days, Pontius became dehydrated and disoriented and started experiencing hallucinations.

In the early morning of Oct. 25, Pontius became aggressive, according to a Coast Guard summary filed in the federal court. Pontius attacked the captain, punched him twice and tried to strangle him, according to the summary.

Pontius eventually climbed over a wire railing and jumped overboard. Smith allegedly watched him sink into the water with a trail of bubbles visible in the nearly full moon. The captain ordered another crew member to shine the spotlight to see if he could locate Pontius.

When he could not be found, Smith allegedly said “There is nothing we can do” and continued sailing. He tried contacting other vessels but with no success.

The indictment maintains that the captain should have activated his emergency position indicating radio beacon which would have immediately alerted the Coast Guard. He also failed to properly use his VHF marine radio, and also failed to deploy a search and recover pattern, according to the indictment.


Smith did not report the incident until 36 hours later, according to the indictment.

“According to an eyewitness, it was only then, after making the report 36 hours later, that defendant Smith threw a life ring overboard, stating something to the effect of ‘at least I can say I threw a life ring,’ ” the court papers state.

The family of the lost crew member has filed a civil lawsuit against the captain.

Smith’s daughter has started a Gofundme page on Nov. 16 to raise $50,000 for her father’s legal defense and expenses of having to remain in St. Thomas without being able to operate his charter business there during the winter.

The trial is tentatively scheduled to start Jan. 7.

The Virgin Islands are east of Puerto Rico.

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