by Al Baker, The New York Times
For all the apparent mayhem surrounding a late night boating accident
took the lives of two people in Queens on Thursday, the authorities had
simple explanation: a drunken teenager had turned his father's boat around
in fast circles for fun and then slammed it into another one.
But in the days since, the official account of what happened that night
has itself changed course. On Monday, the authorities said Robert Arnold,
the 18-year-old initially charged with operating a boat while intoxicated,
actually had a blood-alcohol level of 0.01, well below the legal limit.
Yesterday, officials said that four bags of cocaine were found in a
knapsack in the smashed remains of the other boat involved in the crash.
They also said that boat's operator, John Kondogianis, 35, who died as a
result of the crash, had been arrested twice since 1999 on misdemeanor drug
possession charges and was sentenced on April 2 to three years' probation.
Additionally, the police and prosecutors yesterday were investigating
whether the running lights on Mr. Kondogianis's 19-foot Bayliner were turned
off at the time of the crash, as Mr. Arnold's passengers have told the
Now investigators are vigorously reinterviewing all the witnesses and
individuals involved in the crash, as well as the Harbor Unit police
officers who responded to it. The authorities are reviewing all the
statements gathered to determine the actions both boaters took and the cause
of the crash, a senior police official said.
"The plot thickens," a law enforcement official said yesterday when asked
about the course of the investigation. The official added: "It is not going
where everybody thought it was going to go. It is fascinating and sad."
Put another way by Barry Kamins, a defense lawyer who served as a
prosecutor in the Brooklyn district attorney's office from 1969 to 1973
who is the former president of the Brooklyn Bar Association: "In some of
these cases, things are not exactly what they seem initially, and
individuals who appear to be responsible may not be as facts develop.
"Defendants are sometimes not as culpable as initial reports make out,
and victims are not always totally blameless," Mr. Kamins added. "Sometimes,
the truth in a case lies somewhere in the middle, between black and
Mr. Arnold's lawyer, Steven R. Barnwell, denies the case is foggy. "There
is something in this story that has not changed," he said yesterday. "Mr.
Arnold committed no criminal act. That has been the position of the family
since Day 1. That has not changed."
Mr. Arnold, a lifeguard who was a National Honor Society student at St.
Mary's High School in Manhasset and who plans to attend the State University
of New York at New Paltz, declined to be interviewed yesterday, Mr. Barnwell
said, as did Mr. Arnold's parents.
In the crash, Mr. Kondogianis was hurled overboard, as was George
Lawrence, 17, one of five teenagers who were passengers on Mr. Arnold's
18-foot fiberglass Sea Ray. The bodies of both men, who had been missing
since the 9:50 p.m. crash, were discovered floating in the shallow waters
nearby on Sunday, the authorities said.
Originally, Mr. Arnold, of Douglas Manor, was accused of drinking and
roughhousing on the dark waterway. He was charged with three counts of
boating while intoxicated because his breath smelled like alcohol and
because he refused to take a Breathalyzer test at the scene, the authorities
The results of a blood test ordered by a judge three and a half
hours after the crash showed that Mr. Arnold was clearly not drunk
the time of the crash, law enforcement officials said Monday. A test for
drugs is still pending, and if the results come back negative, the three
original charges will probably be dismissed, officials said yesterday.
Officials are also awaiting the results of toxicology tests done on Mr.
Kondogianis, who, according to Ellen S. Borakove, a spokeswoman for the
medical examiner's office, died of blunt impact injuries to the head and
neck after submersion in water.
An investigation of other factors in the crash, like the speed of the
boats and the conditions on the water, is still under way. If prosecutors
find evidence to support charges that Mr. Arnold acted with criminal
negligence or criminal recklessness, he could face other charges, including
criminally negligent homicide or reckless manslaughter, law enforcement
"The investigation is continuing, and no conclusions have been drawn,"
Patrick Clark, a spokesman for the Queens district attorney, Richard A.
Brown, said yesterday.
The substance found on Mr. Kondogianis's boat a development first
reported Monday by WNBC-TV was identified yesterday through
laboratory tests as cocaine, officials said. Still, many questions
According to the criminal complaint, Mr. Arnold told the police that
was doing 360-degree turns with his Sea Ray and that his bow struck the
right front side of the Bayliner, which he did not see. But Mr. Barnwell,
who said he was confident that his client was not using drugs that night,
raised questions about whether Mr. Arnold's statement would ever be
introduced as evidence.
"The officer said that Robert said he was doing 360's," Mr. Barnwell
said. "Was that when he was assisting the police? Before the police got
there? When he was looking for the bodies? Or was that the other boat? There
is also the issue of whether he even said it. These are all things to be
determined at a hearing."