Crime

Dredging firm fined $500,000 in Mark Barhanovich death

Barhanovich
Barhanovich

GULFPORT -- A federal judge has fined dredging company C.F. Bean LLC $500,000 for failing to light a dredging pipeline, resulting in the 2012 boating death of Biloxi businessman and philanthropist Mark Barhanovich.

The fine is the maximum penalty for what is considered "seaman's manslaughter."

Chief U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden sentenced the company Tuesday and imposed a $400 special assessment and five years of probation. The corporation must make monthly payments of $8,630.

James W. Bean Jr. accepted a plea deal to a felony charge of misconduct or neglect of ship officers resulting in death. Attorney Joe Sam Owen said Bean is a managing member of the corporation, based in Belle Chasse, La., which he co-owns with his father, mother and an aunt.

Owen said the firm had been concerned about the criminal charge, but was even more concerned "for a fair resolution for the Barhanovich family" in a related lawsuit.

Barhanovich's widow, Jerrie Patrick Barhanovich, and three children had filed the lawsuit two years ago. They recently agreed to a settlement in a "significant" amount, a court document said.

Barhanovich's family was not in court Tuesday.

A C.F. Bean representative and the barge captain, engineer or other employee responsible for negligence could each have faced 10 years in prison. Those penalties will not be sought as part of the plea agreement.

Warning devices

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gaines Cleveland showed slides in court depicting warning devices C.F. Bean was required to have: three sets of lights at night and in restricted visibility and three sets of symbols by day.

The warnings, for instance, should have included yellow lights, flashing 50 to 70 times per minute and visible for at least 2 miles, to show the pipeline's length and course.

A daytime warning was two diamonds and a vertical line on the side of the barge where boaters could pass. When C.F. Bean did use the diamond symbol, it led boaters to the same side as the obstruction, the prosecutor said.

C.F. Bean, through its agents and employees, failed to properly mark and light its barge and the pipeline, Cleveland said. Instead, the pipeline was marked with pilings that had become lost or displaced.

The U.S. Attorney's Office filed the charge Sept. 16, three years from the day Barhanovich died.

Barhanovich, 54, was a widely known civic leader, volunteer for charities and an insurance agent.

He died Sept. 16, 2012, after a crash near the eastern tip of Deer Island, where his fishing boat hit a partially submerged dredging pipe. The boat's Suzuki outboard engine broke off and flipped into his boat, and its propeller struck him in the back.

Dredging went to Deer Island

The Mississippi State Port Authority had hired C.F. Bean to conduct dredging operations and construct a floating dredge pipeline of nearly a mile long. The pipeline ran from Deer Island to a dredge barge named Bean 20. C.F. Bean pumped dredged materials to the island to restore land Deer Island had lost.

A U.S. Coast Guard investigation determined C.F. Bean had taken down lights and other warning devices before Hurricane Isaac and failed to replace them. Isaac made landfall Aug. 28, 2012, about three weeks earlier, in Louisiana.

The Coast Guard report said C.F. Bean had been notified of other boating accidents involving its dredging pipe.

"It is hard to understand how an experienced maritime business like this could have failed in its duty at such a high cost," U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis said.

Rear Adm. David R. Callahan expressed condolences to the Barhanovich family and said, "We will continue to monitor our waterways of responsibility and to work closely with the U.S. Attorney's Office to support their efforts in holding offenders criminally accountable."

Day of the accident

Barhanovich was an avid fishermen and experienced boater who had planned to fish with some childhood friends at the Katrina Reef in the Gulf of Mexico.

Barhanovich had a passenger in his 2005 2450 Fishmaster 23-footer named the LIL'O. They had planned to meet up with another friend in a separate boat.

Barhanovich was familiar with the waterway and the seas were calm about 6:20 a.m., just before sunrise, when the boat hit the dredge pipe.

Four round orange fenders -- floating warning devices -- were tied to the 3,800 feet of pipeline. Bean 20's crew began tying more orange fenders to the pipeline as Coast Guard investigators were leaving the scene about 3 p.m., the Coast Guard report said.

About the man

Barhanovich was from an "old Biloxi" family. Biloxi High's former football stadium was named for his father. He had been a placekicker for the University of Southern Mississippi's Golden Eagles.

He was a parishioner at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church for more than three decades.

He was vice president of BancorpSouth Insurance, where he had worked since 1985. He handled Biloxi's insurance for city employees.

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