Judge’s decision in U.S. Virgin Islands

Captain Rick Smith acquitted on Seaman’s Manslaughter charges

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 4:00pm

CAMDEN - Captain Rick Smith, 65, of Camden has been acquitted on charges of Seaman’s Manslaughter following a three-day trial that began January 7. 

According to attorney David Cattie, Esq. of the the St. Thomas-based Cattie Law Firm, a motion for judgement of acquittal was granted by a federal judge with the U.S. Court of the Virgin Islands on Wednesday, January 9. 

Smith owns and captains the 43-foot sailing vessel Cimarron, sailing charters out of Camden during the summer and St. John, USVI, during the winter. He makes an annual passage in October. It was during this annual passage in 2015 that the incident catalyzing the charges occurred. 

Crew member David Pontious joined the boat’s crew in Beaufort, South Carolina, after another crew member disembarked. Smith did not know Pontious; however, his family shared mutual acquaintances with Smith and the connection was made, according to court documents.

Soon after the voyage began, Pontious allegedly became increasingly ill and began acting erratically prior to threatening Smith’s crew and allegedly repeatedly attacking Smith on the night of October 25, 2015. The boat was approximately 400 miles offshore when Pontious claimed that he saw a “door” in the clouds and demanded that Smith turn the boat toward it. When Smith did not comply, Pontious jumped from the boat, according to a report compiled by US Coast Guard Lt. Jacob Hopper

Smith said in a late November interview that the boat was outside radio range, and that Pontious never surfaced after his jump from the vessel. It was 36 hours later when the incident was reported, and it was alleged that Smith did not make appropriate efforts to assist Pontious directly following the incident. He was indicted in July, 2018. 

Smith was arrested in November when he returned to St. John and has been on house arrest in St. Thomas awaiting trial. 

The U.S. Attorney’s office filed an opposition to the motion for judgement of acquittal, however the judge ruled in favor of the defense. 

At approximately 1 p.m. on January 9 Smith posted a single word – in all capital letters – to his personal Facebook page: FREEDOM!!!!!!!!

Jenna Lookner can be reached at jlooknercopy@gmail.com