Survivors of capsized Haitian migrant smuggling boat charged with murder

A Bahamian boat captain and crewman are being charged with causing the deaths of four Haitian women who drowned after their overcrowded smuggling boat capsized in waters off Miami.

Captain Naaman Davis, 53, and crewman George Lewis, 38, were charged, along with four others, in a 24-count federal indictment returned Friday by a grand jury. Lewis and Davis face charges of conspiring to smuggle migrants into the United States and causing their deaths, as well as smuggling the migrants resulting in four deaths. Davis, who also faces involuntary manslaughter charges, is accused of killing the women “without malice” while “operating a vessel in a grossly negligent manner.”

If convicted, the men could face the death penalty or life in prison.

The Haitian passengers seem to have come from the Saint-Louis-du-Nord and Port-de-Paix areas of northern Haiti, but it is unclear how long they were in the Bahamas before boarding a 25-foot motorboat to Miami. In all, 15 were traveling in the vessel when it flipped over the morning of Oct. 16 just southeast of Government Cut, the entrance to PortMiami,

None had life jackets. One of the migrants dialed 911 on a cell phone around 1:20 a.m. and Coast Guard crews found 11 survivors, including a 15-year-old girl, clinging to the boat’s hull.

Earlier this week, U.S. federal authorities released four Haitian survivors – Pierre Louisias, Widly Cajuste, Fallonne Alouidor and the 15-year-old – from immigration custody. The status of a fifth survivor, Vincent Anderson, is not known.

Haitian rights activist Marleine Bastien, who met with some of the Haitian survivors, welcomed the news of the federal indictment.

“As I was listening to one of the survivors, it appears that some of the lives could have been saved,” she said. “We are going to let the wheels of justice take its course and let this serve as an example that such recklessness and complete disrespect for the values of human life will not be tolerated.”

Family members of three of the dead have come forward to identify the bodies, Bastien said.

They have been identified as Lodilia Escarment, 36; and Carmen Valeris and Woodline Alexis, both in their 30s. Bastien said she has a photograph of the fourth woman, but has not yet been able to identify her. Her body remains in the morgue.

Bastien’s Haitian Women of Miami organization now is working with others in the community to raise funds to help with burial expenses.

According to Friday’s indictment, federal officials charged six survivors with attempted alien smuggling and illegal reentry into the United States. Three survivors – Matthew Williams, 30; Everton Jones, also known as “Everton Bryce,” 40; and Kenard Hagigal, 35, all Jamaicans – are convicted felons previously deported form the United States. Another passenger, Sean Gaynor, 37, also of Jamaica, had been deported, as well as the two crewmen, Lewis and Davis.