Camden captain accused of seaman’s manslaughter discusses incident; Coast Guard releases report
ST. THOMAS, USVI — Captain Rick Smith, of Camden, said Nov. 27 that he called repeatedly for assistance on a single-band radio that October 2015 night when a crew member jumped into the ocean from Smith’s 43-foot sailboat, Cimarron, 400 miles offshore. Smith remains under house arrest in St. Thomas following his Nov. 2 arrest on charges of seaman’s manslaughter resulting from that night, when David Pontius, 54, reportedly experienced delusions and jumped to his death.
Smith, 66, is currently out on $25,000 bond, but must remain on St. Thomas and observe a 7 p.m. curfew.
On Nov. 27 and speaking by phone, Smith referenced a four-page report issued by Coast Guard Lt. Jacob Hopper (see attached images for complete report).
Smith said that while he only recently obtained the Coast Guard report, its contents are based on two days of interviews conducted with him and his crew directly following Cimarron’s 2015 arrival in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands.
“[The night of the incident] there was no question about the threat to my life and the lives of the crew,” Smith said.
Smith described the conditions, which are outlined in Hopper’s report. Smith said the moon was full, and that Pontius had been extremely seasick throughout the voyage, culminating on the night of his death when he was experiencing hallucinations and reportedly saw a “door” in the distant clouds.
Both Smith and the Coast Guard report reference Pontius’s health conditions and the numerous medications he had been prescribed. Due to the seasickness, Pontius was reportedly not able to take his medications.
Smith was indicted in July and arrested when he arrived on the beach in St. John on Nov. 2, 2018. He described an ordinary day, hopping in his dinghy to go to lunch.
“They were waiting [to arrest me] on the beach,” he said.
The indictment alleges that Smith did not take the requisite actions to assist Pontius after he jumped overboard, including calling for assistance on the radio and activating an emergency position beacon.
Lt. Hopper’s investigation concluded that the Captain and his remaining crew acted accordingly: "Nobody on this vessel was trained for this sort of situation, and I believe they tried to handle it as best they could without [communications] and being so far from shore for assistance," the report states.
Pontius had threatened and assaulted Smith and threatened other members of the crew, according to Smith and statements contained in the Coast Guard report.
Smith said he recalled Pontius saying to another crewman, “you’re next” while he was engaged in aggressive behavior toward Smith on the night of his death.
Hopper’s report goes on to state that after Pontius jumped from the vessel Smith “was relieved because at this point David was a threat to the crew,” Hopper wrote. “Hindsight is 20/20 and when not placed in a situation like that, one may ask why didn’t you search? Why didn’t you throw a life ring and an EPIRB out? The Captain saw him go under and not resurface, and that is why he did not turn back and search plus he was scared to death that if he got back on the vessel he would throw other people overboard.”
Despite repeated calls for assistance on the single-band radio, approximately 30 hours had passed by the time he was able to make contact.
Born near Portland, Maine, Smith has lived in Camden for 45 years and spends winters in St. John. He said he has made 70 passages without incident and has been sailing offshore for 45 of his 50 years as a sailor.
Cimarron is registered in Camden where Smith operates a seasonal charter business, which he typically operates from St. John during the winter. The conditions of his release do not allow him to work, and as such, his daughter has set up several fundraising pages.
The first fundraiser, set up via Go Fund Me, was taken down shortly after its launch due to requirements of the site, his daughter Ashley said in a Facebook message. She has since launched a fundraiser on the crowd sourcing site “Funded Justice.”
Smith said he received more than $6,000 raised from donations before the Go Fund Me campaign was disabled. He added that he is in daily contact with his attorney.
“We’re working on this all day, every day,” Smith said.