Prosecutor seek 10 months for oil spill pilot

July 13, 2009 4:21:15 PM PDT
Prosecutors have asked a federal judge in San Francisco to sentence the pilot in a 2007 oil spill into the San Francisco Bay on Friday to 10 months in prison, while defense attorneys are seeking a two-month term.

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John Cota, 61, of Petaluma, was the pilot of the Cosco Busan when the ship struck a protective fender of a San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge support pier on Nov. 7, 2007, and spilled more than 53,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel into the Bay.

In March, Cota pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Susan Illston to two misdemeanor crimes of polluting the Bay and killing migratory birds.

He is due to be sentenced by Illston on Friday.

Under the plea bargain, prosecution and defense attorneys agreed to a sentence of between two and 10 months. If the judge does not impose a sentence within that range, Cota would have the right to withdraw his guilty plea and have a trial instead.

The two sides filed their competing sentencing recommendations late last week.

Prosecutors contend the maximum 10-month term is justified because, they say, Cota had a series of "intentional and negligent" lapses of judgment leading up to the incident.

The lapses, according to prosecutors, include failing to fully disclose his prescription medications during license renewal proceedings, allowing the Cosco Busan to sail in heavy fog, and failing to communicate adequately with the ship's captain and crew.

Defense attorneys have asked for the minimum two-month term, saying that Cota "deeply regrets" the accident but arguing that Cota has already lost his career and that his actions were not the only factor that caused the spill.

Both sides agreed on recommending a $30,000 fine, the maximum agreed to in the plea bargain.

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