Report: Towboat captain has heart blockage

Saturday, June 1st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) _ The pilot of a towboat whose barge crashed into the Interstate 40 bridge, causing a deadly collapse, had a heart condition he didn't know about, a published report says.

Capt. Joe Dedmon has heart blockage, Ken Suydam, chief investigator on site for the National Transportation Safety Board, said at a closed meeting in Muskogee on Friday, the Muskogee Daily Phoenix reported in a copyright story.

A reporter from the newspaper inadvertently sat in on the meeting, which was attended by personnel from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

Government officials were not aware of the reporter's presence until after the briefing, an NTSB spokeswoman said.

Dedmon was piloting the towboat, which was pushing the barge that crashed into the bridge about 7:45 a.m. Sunday. The bodies of 14 people and 10 vehicles were pulled from the river this week.

Roger Harris, director of marine operations for Vicksburg, Miss.-based Magnolia Marine Transport Co., told the Phoenix that Dedmon, 61, has a heart condition that he didn't know about before the accident. Magnolia Marine owns the towboat.

Muskogee doctors told Dedmon that medical tests taken after the collision show he has heart blockage, Harris said.

Lauren Peduzzi, a spokeswoman for the NTSB in Washington, told The Associated Press that Dedmon was being transferred to a hospital in Jackson, Miss., for cardiac evaluation.

She said she did not know whether Dedmon had a cardiac problem at the time of the incident.

``I would not make that leap,'' she said. ``I can't even tell you that there was a cardiac incident.''

Peduzzi said the meeting was a briefing for authorities who were investigating the bridge collapse. Many of the investigators, including the NTSB's chief investigator on the case, left Oklahoma on Friday.

She said the reporter who attended the meeting should not have been there.

``It was not open to the media,'' she said. ``He was not invited into the meeting by the NTSB.''

Dedmon told investigators that he believed he blacked out shortly before the barge, being pushed by the towboat, hit the bridge. Dedmon told officials he remembered passing a buoy in the river about a half-mile before the crash site.

Dedmon agreed to routine urine and blood tests after the collision. He remained hospitalized all week, but his condition was not disclosed.

Harris told the Phoenix that information about Dedmon's heart problem came from the family.

Suydam told reporters on Thursday that Dedmon had about 9 1/2 hours of sleep in the roughly two days before the crash. He had driven 12 hours to his home in Florence, Miss., and slept 3 1/2 hours before driving to Fort Smith, Ark., where he boarded the towboat, Suydam said.

Dedmon went to bed at 11 p.m. Saturday and arose at 5 a.m. Sunday to take over in the towboat's wheelhouse, Suydam said. At 7 a.m., a crew member talked with Dedmon for 35 minutes before leaving.

``He (Dedmon) is terribly distraught; he feels terrible about what happened,'' Harris told the Phoenix. ``It will be with him forever. If there was any way to take anything back that happened, I'm sure he would. He's praying for the families and feeling for them.''