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Drowning victim Catherine Kinsella fell through a broken railing on this charter boat in Hyannis Harbor

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jim Smith

HYANNIS, Mass. – Amid allegations that the crew of a charter boat drank alcohol and smoked marijuana while a young Irish woman fell through a broken railing on the passenger deck and drowned in Hyannis Harbor, a Barnstable County grand jury heard from about a dozen Irish passengers last week as it seeks to determine if criminal charges should be brought against the boat’s captain and crew.

Catherine Kinsella, of Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow, who had been vacationing and working in the U.S. for about a month, joined about 45 other people on July 22 for a Sunday night cruise around Hyannis Harbor. The 20-year-old student had recently started a job at Dunkin’ Donuts and was staying at the Cape Holiday Motel with friends in Hyannis.

The passengers, many of them young Irish students like herself, had paid $35 each for a cruise aboard the 58-foot Sea Genie II. The boat pulled out of the Hyannis dock around 9:10 p.m. For about an hour and a half the passengers enjoyed food, beer, and music provided by a disc jockey.

At around 10:15 p.m., the boat drifted into the bow of an unoccupied sailboat, which knocked out a three-foot section of the Sea Genie II’s railing. At around 11 p.m., shortly after the damaged boat headed back to shore, Kinsella tumbled into the sea.

Her frantic screams could be heard in the water, but passengers, using flashlights, were unable to locate her in the pitch blackness. According to Commander Thomas Barone of the Coast Guard Station in Woods Hole, a distress call was received by the Coast Guard at 11:20 p.m., reporting that a passenger had gone overboard. Her body was discovered at 12:50 a.m., by a helicopter crew.

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The grand jury is looking into allegations that underage passengers were served alcohol. In Massachusetts the legal drinking age is 21, while in Ireland it is 18. Many of the passengers on board the Sea Genie II were reportedly between 19 and 21.

Concern about possible substance abuse by the crew is also being probed. On the morning after the drowning, the Coast Guard took blood and urine samples from the men who were piloting the boat that night, including Capt. Joseph Shore of Newton and his son, Cord Shore of Hyannis. Results of those drug and alcohol screens should be available soon, according to the Coast Guard.

Investigators acknowledge that they have also received reports from passengers that the crew took an inordinate amount of time before placing a distress call to the Coast Guard after Kinsella fell overboard. It is also alleged that the crew were more concerned about hiding evidence of alcohol consumption on board than it was about seeking emergency assistance for the drowning woman.

Some of the passengers, who remain publicly unidentified, allege that crew members spent precious minutes throwing cans of beer overboard instead of life preservers. Police are also investigating claims that the crew had been smoking marijuana on board and only belatedly called for emergency help.

Neither Captain Shore nor his son has made any public statements since the drowning, and telephone calls made to their respective homes in Newton and Hyannis by the Irish Echo have not been returned.

Barnstable County Assistant District Attorney Michael Trudeau told the Echo Monday that one group of young Irish passengers testified before the grand jury last Tuesday, with more scheduled to testify next week. Without commenting specifically about the content of that testimony, Trudeau said that the Irish passengers have been very cooperative. “There had been a lot of testimony about inappropriate conduct on the part of the crew,” he said.

Trudeau described the ongoing investigation as multi-faceted and complex, involving possible violations of state and federal laws. “We have been in contact with the U.S. Attorney’s Office about the issue of jurisdiction,” he said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard is conducting its own investigation, headed by Lt. Dawn Kallen of headquarters in Providence, R.I. “We’re looking at safety issues and trying to determine if there were any acts of negligence or misconduct or any violations of the federal codes,” she said Monday.

Regarding the drug tests done on the crew, Kallen said that information about those results will be transmitted to the District Attorney’s Office in due course.

Kinsella, known as Kate to her many friends, had recently completed her first year at college in Dun Laoghaire, where she was training to become an elementary school teacher. She had also attended the Baltinglass National School and St. Leo’s College in Carlow, where she was an excellent student.

She was the daughter of Baltinglass auctioneer and businessman Joseph Kinsella and his wife Maria of Parkmore House. She is also survived by two brothers, Joseph and William, her sisters, Mary and Anna and her grandmothers. She was laid to rest on Sunday, July 29, following the funeral Mass in Baltinglass.

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