M’TOWN: BOATER IN FATAL CRASH INDICTED

George Harrington being placed under arrest for drunken driving of a boat shortly after the 2011 crash. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

[Editor’s note: See update below]

The pilot of a boat that smashed into another on the Navesink River almost two years ago has been indicted on vehicular homicide charge, the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s office announced Tuesday.

George Harrington, 41, of Browns Dock Road in Middletown, is alleged in a grand jury indictment handed up Monday to have been under the influence of liquor or drugs when a Boston Whaler he was piloting plowed into a vessel near buoy 20, between Middletown and Fair Haven, on July 23, 2011.

Christopher Plante, 50, of Keansburg, was killed in the crash.

Harrington, with five aboard his vessel, was “operating at a fairly high rate of speed” at about 11:30 p.m.that Saturday night when his 20-foot-long boat hit a Stingray operated by Plante, State Police said at the time.

Harrington’s boat “rode over the stern of Plante’s vessel,” a police spokesman told redbankgreen. “Plante was traveling at a slow speed in his vessel, with his girlfriend as a passenger, when his vessel was struck and he was ejected into the river,” Acting Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni said in a prepared statement.

The accident spurred a water and air search involving helicopters, boats and divers. A command center was set up on the dock of a mansion on the Middletown side of the river to run the search.

Plante’s body was found by a paddleboarder the following morning, according to various accounts.

At the time of the collision, Plante was with an unidentified passenger who was not injured or ejected from the Stingray, police said.

If convicted, Harrington faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in New Jersey State Prison, subject to the provisions of the “No Early Release Act” (“NERA”), according to a spokesman for the prosecutor. “NERA” requires that a defendant serve 85 percent of the sentence imposed before becoming eligible for parole.

Superior Court Judge Francis J. Vernoia, in Freehold, set Harrington’s bail at $150,000. Harrington was processed on the charge and was released after posting 10 percent, the prosecutor’s office said.

[Update, 12:17pm: Here’s a statement issued by Chris Adams, Harrington’s attorney:]

“Mr. Plante’s death was a tragic accident, but Mr. Harrington was not the cause
of that accident.”

“Mr. Harrington is a skilled boater and sailing instructor, and a trial will show
that he obeyed all of the rules of navigation, including lighting and speed. The
other vessel, tragically, did not.”

“At trial, it will be clear that Mr. Harrington did not operate his boat recklessly
and was not the cause of the accident. To the contrary, a trial will show that
Mr. Harrington was under control at all times, vigilant and cautious on the
water. The other boat, unfortunately, was not.”

“At trial, it will be clear that the other boat caused the accident.”

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