HARD AGROUND - Wreck of the Exxon Valdez - March 24, 1989


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Daily News reporter

Anchorage Daily News
Date: 03/24/90
Day: Saturday
Edition: Final
Section: Nation
Page: A1

ANCHORAGE- Superior Court Judge Karl Johnstone on Friday ordered Capt. Joseph Hazelwood to spend 1,000 hours wiping rocks and cleaning beaches in Prince William Sound as punishment for steering the tanker Exxon Valdez onto Bligh Reef where it spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil.

The judge also ordered Hazelwood to pay a "token restitution" of $50,000 for the damage caused by the nation's largest oil spill.

Johnstone said he didn't think jail time was a proper penalty for Hazelwood's crime. The captain has already suffered "enormous shame" and has undoubtedly been deterred from future crimes, the judge said.

But Alaska was outraged by the spill that blackened hundreds of miles of shoreline and killed thousands of birds and animals and Hazelwood needs to pay for his actions, he said.

After deliberating only 101|2 hours, a superior court jury on Thursday acquitted Hazelwood of criminal mischief, a felony, and two misdemeanor counts of operating a boat under the influence of alcohol and reckless endangerment. He was convicted of the least serious charge, negligent discharge of oil.

But Johnstone said Hazelwood should be held responsible for drinking before he set sail on March 23, 1989, and for leaving the helm of his ship.

"No reasonably prudent person operating a tanker like the Exxon Valdez would have had those drinks before getting on board, would have left the bridge when Captain Hazelwood did," Johnstone said. "In my opinion he violated at least a couple of Coast Guard regulations, and that at the very least constitutes negligence.

"And I believe Captain Hazelwood knows that the buck stops with him."

Johnstone acknowledged that the defense will likely appeal the conviction and, even if it stands, it will be a long time before Hazelwood has to do his time on the rugged beaches of Prince William Sound. By the time the appeal process runs its course, the beach cleanup workers paid by Exxon Corp. may be long gone, even if the oil isn't. Experts have said it could last a decade or more in protected coves and marshes.

If the bearded captain ever clambers across the boulders wearing a backpack full of fertilizer that promotes oil eating microbes, the time he spends serving his sentence would be longer than the jail time provided by law.

The crime he was convicted of carries a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Johnstone imposed both penalties but then suspended them, with the condition that he perform the 1,000 hours of community service work. If Hazelwood worked 40 hours a week, he would spend six months cleaning beaches.

"He won't be rubbing rocks this summer," defense attorney Dick Madson promised after the judge had pronounced his sentence and Hazelwood had fled the crowded courtroom on the third floor of the state courthouse.

"That was a novel way of coming up with a fair sentence," he said. "I just don't know whether it can be done on the beaches of Prince William Sound."

The appeal is expected to take at least two years and the sentence will be stayed while it is pending.

Hazelwood was expecting a harsher sentence, according to Madson. He said he didn't know how the captain feels about cleaning beaches.

Tailoring community work service to fit the crime is not unusual, according to Anchorage District Attorney Dwayne McConnell. Child abusers are frequently required to speak about their offenses. But the number of hours imposed by Johnstone is uncommonly high, he said. He does not remember a community work requirement of more than 250 hours.

"I was certainly satisfied with the sentence. I think it would be very appropriate for him in some small way to make a minuscule dent in what he did," McConnell said.

Madson said the $50,000 restitution is illegal because Johnstone made no effort to determine what Hazelwood's income and assets are. The judge said he should pay 25 percent of his income from all sources, but Madson said that is beyond the unemployed captain's means.

"The judge has no power to arbitrarily set an amount," he said.

Before his sentencing remarks, Johnstone asked Hazelwood if he had anything to say to the court. The captain walked to the podium where he offered a brief "thank you" to the jury for its verdict.

Johnstone then chastised him for not apologizing to the people of Alaska for his actions.

"I was hoping I was going to hear something that would sound like an apology," the judge said. "I've been waiting to hear that. I watched television. I saw where the captain's going to try to get his job back. I was waiting to hear something that sounded like "I'm sorry.' "

He added that he realized Hazelwood's attorneys had probably advised him not to say anything that would sound like an acceptance of responsibility because of ongoing litigation. Hazelwood is named as a defendant in many of the 150 civil lawsuits arising from the oil spill.

Robert Kuhner, a professor of philosophy at the University of Alaska, said an apology from Hazelwood would have filled a void felt by Alaskans and by the captain himself.

"One of the greatest problems in the judicial system is nobody's allowed to say, "I was wrong,' " said Kuhner. "The legal system says, "You open your mouth at your own peril.'

"I think we all appreciate what the judge said," he added. But, "In some sense we can't accept an apology. That's kind of tragic."

Hazelwood also faces action against his U.S. Coast Guard master's license. Coast Guard Commandant Paul Yost said Friday that Hazelwood will face a hearing over whether his license should be revoked or suspended. He would not say when the review will take place or predict the outcome.

Story Index:
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Overall: story 189 of 380 Previous Next
The Captain story 37 of 56 Previous Next

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