Metro

Lawmakers hear testimony on duck boat fatality

Martha Warmuth, mother of crash victim Allison Warmuth, embraced Senator Kathleen O’Connor at Thursday’s hearing.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
Martha Warmuth, mother of crash victim Allison Warmuth, embraced Senator Kathleen O’Connor at Thursday’s hearing.

It was a crisp spring morning, a good day for a ride on a scooter. So Kevan Moniri joined his friend Allison Warmuth.

Their scooter eased to a stop on Charles Street, where the traffic light had turned red. They waited to turn right onto Beacon Street. A hulking duck boat, the Penelope Pru, trundled to a stop behind them.

“When the light turned green, the duck boat started to encroach on us as if we weren’t there,” Moniri said Thursday. “It quickly became clear to me the driver didn’t know we were in front of him.”

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Moniri provided his account during testimony to a legislative committee considering toughening oversight of the duck boat industry. It was the first time he had publicly recounted the events of April 30, when the scooter and the duck boat collided, resulting in Warmuth’s death.

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Moniri said that both he and Warmuth were wearing helmets, and that Warmuth drove “completely safely.”

“Allie . . . did everything she could to get ahead of the duck boat, but she couldn’t accelerate fast enough,” he continued. He said the duck boat then collided with the scooter. Moniri fell and rolled over, but Warmuth became pinned under the duck boat.

“I have no idea how or why the duck boat driver failed to recognize we were in front of him,” he said.

IVAN WARMUTH
Allison Warmuth.

Moniri was joined at the State House by relatives and friends of Warmuth, whose death has raised concerns about the safety of sightseeing vehicles.

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Moniri said he supports proposed legislation that would mandate all vehicles operating on land and water to install blind-spot cameras and sensors to detect nearby vehicles. The legislation would also prohibit the driver of any sightseeing vehicles — meaning trolleys as well as duck boats — from narrating tours at the same time, a prohibition that would require a second employee on board to narrate.

Moniri said that blind-spot cameras would have prevented the crash he was involved in, and that any duck boat driver who also has to narrate is by definition distracted.

“With this bill, I don’t think anyone is looking to run sightseeing companies out of business,” Moniri told the Joint Committee on Transportation. “I believe that if the driver had been exclusively focused on the road, Allie would be alive today.”

Authorities continue their investigation of the fatal crash. Jake Wark, spokesman for the Suffolk district attorney, said Thursday in an e-mail that Boston police are working on a collision reconstruction report that “often takes months to compile.” No charges have been filed in Warmuth’s death.

Martha Warmuth, Allison’s mother, said changes need to be made to make sightseeing vehicles safer.

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“Accidents are not because of some unlucky chance happening,” she said, amid tears. “They happen because of a pattern of doing the wrong thing. In this case, the city and duck boat company allowed these vehicles to operate on the streets of Boston in an unsafe manner.”

Cindy Brown, chief executive of Boston Duck Tours, testified, along with the company’s technology and training staff. Brown said that since the collision, Boston Duck Tours has equipped each of its 28 vehicles with a new camera and is experimenting with sensors on some vehicles.

Brown said she agreed with the proposed camera and sensor requirements, yet urged lawmakers to wait to take final action until the investigation into the collision is completed.

“I feel like we don’t know what happened in the accident yet,” she said after the hearing. “Until the investigation is concluded and the findings are released, then we’ll have a clearer picture.”

More than a dozen others testified during the hearing, including Allison’s father, Ivan Warmuth; managers of local sightseeing companies; current and former drivers of tour trolleys; and friends of the Warmuth family. Almost half of the seating area was occupied by employees of the sightseeing vehicle industry.

“While the recent death distresses me and everyone in this room, we need to react to it rationally and not emotionally,” said John Welby, general manager of Old Town Trolley. “One incident does not define the entire industry.”

The tour companies who were present mostly operate trolleys and other vehicles but not duck boats. Most agreed amphibious vehicles should have sensors and cameras, but were concerned they did not have the budget to comply with the proposed requirement that a separate narrator be aboard.

State Senator William Brownsberger, who cosponsored the bill, said the cost of hiring additional employees could be mitigated by charging slightly higher ticket fees.

“If because of this legislation they all have to do it at once, nobody will be at competitive disadvantage,” he said. “The economic arguments pale next to the issue of safety.”

Earlier, Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat, told the Globe that he hoped the legislation would pass before the session ends this month and would go into effect April 2017.

Evan Allen of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Miguel Otárola can be reached at miguel.otarola@globe.com.