A B.C. Supreme Court judge blamed a tangled, steamy relationship between two crew members for the Queen of the North’s deadly collision with a remote, rocky island, as she sentenced navigator Karl Lilgert to four years for his role in the ship’s sinking.
Calling Mr. Lilgert’s failure to make a routine course correction “an extreme and catastrophic dereliction of his duty,” Justice Sunni Stromberg-Stein noted that it occurred while the veteran mariner was working alone on the bridge with his ex-lover, quartermaster Karen Briker, for the first time since they ended their intense affair.
The judge declined to speculate exactly what went on between the two, while the large passenger ferry headed directly toward Gil Island without altering course, shortly after midnight on March 22, 2006.
“But I know what [Mr. Lilgert] was not doing. He was not doing his job,” Justice Stromberg-Stein declared. “Clearly, he was distracted by personal issues related to his relationship with Ms. Briker. … He did nothing he was supposed to do.”
Mr. Lilgert, 59, was convicted by a jury last month on two counts of criminal negligence causing death. The charges arose from the deaths of passengers Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette. The couple has not been seen since the Queen of the North went down on its way south from Prince Rupert.
Although both Mr. Lilgert and Ms. Briker denied anything unusual took place between them on the bridge that night, their testimony sketched an extramarital affair that survived previous attempts to end it, and which included on-board trysts when they were off duty.
While the two were on the bridge together, the Queen of the North travelled for 14 minutes at full speed, without Mr. Lilgert, the navigator in charge, noticing the ship was sailing straight for Gil Island, Justice Stromberg-Stein said.
“He took no steps to avoid the collision. It was a complete abandonment of the rules of the road.”
She rejected Mr. Lilgert’s testimony that he was navigating as best he could, trying to cope with a sudden squall and other boats in the area.
The judge added that BC Ferries has subsequently made changes to staffing requirements, “so there will never be a situation where two lovers or two former lovers will be alone on a bridge again.”
As his sentence was pronounced, Mr. Lilgert stared ahead, without apparent emotion. Before being led away by a sheriff, he gave a backward glance to friends and family in the courtroom, and received a comforting pat on the back from defence lawyer Glen Orris. The lawyer said he expected Mr. Lilgert to be released on bail late Monday, pending his appeal of the verdict.
“I’m disappointed that my client has to go to jail,” Mr. Orris said. He had argued for a conditional sentence of two years less a day, partly on the grounds that Mr. Lilgert was already a broken man, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and under medical and psychological care for major depression.
But Justice Stromberg-Stein said Mr. Lilgert’s actions led “two innocent passengers to a watery grave” and put all other crew and passengers at risk. “I agree with the Crown that the degree of negligence was egregious.”
Crown prosecutor Robert Wright had urged the court to send Mr. Lilgert to jail for six years.
Outside the courthouse, Phyllis Rosette, a close cousin of victim Shirley Rosette, struggled with her emotions.
“I don’t know what an appropriate sentence would be. … No sentence will ever bring Shirley and Gerald back, but this is something,” Ms. Rosette said.
Asked whether she is now prepared to forgive Mr. Lilgert, Ms. Rosette replied: “It’s easy to say you forgive somebody, but you never forget.”