NEWPORT, Ore. (KOIN) — On the third day of Coast Guard testimony into a deadly crash, friends and family of a Newport fisherman said they worried about him going out on a job that took his life when the Mary B II capsized.
The boat capsized January 8 while trying to enter Yaquina Bay near Newport — killing all three people on board. Stephen Biernacki, 50, and crew members James Lacey, 48, of South Toms River, New Jersey, and Joshua Porter, 50, of Toledo, Oregon were on the 42-foot crabbing boat.
The Coast Guard said Mary B II faced waves of 14 to 16 feet, with some breakers as tall as 20 feet as it tried to enter the safety of the bay.
“He’s not too bright. I’m putting life jacket on.”
Chilling text messages between Joshua Porter and his wife Denise were read aloud in the hearing Wednesday. They shed light on the tense final moments about the Mary B II as the tried to cross the Yaquina Bay Br.
Denise Porter told investigators about the many times she and Josh fished together. He always made safety a priority, she said, and it was one of his concerns with Biernacki.
In one text he wrote: “He’s not too bright. I’m putting life jacket on.”
“He said, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with this guy. He won’t listen to me,” Denise said.
Josh Porter was set to begin a new job the very next day, she said, and was just trying to finish the job he said he’d do.
“‘I just need to get through this next week and everything will be OK,'” he told Denise. She added, “That’s the only reason he got back on that boat.”
‘Told him I didn’t like what I saw’
Charles Busby told investigators Porter was a good deck hand who knew the Oregon coast well. But he said Porter wasn’t excited about going on a trip with Captain Biernacki.
Busby said he cautioned Porter about the rumors of substance abuse swirling around Biernacki.
“I basically just told him I didn’t think it was the spot for him,” Busby testified. “I told him I didn’t like what I saw.”
Earlier in the day some of Biernacki’s former employers told investigators about problems they had with Biernacki — the drug use rumors and risky decisions he’d make on the water.
A toxicology expert also testified Wednesday. Toxicology tests revealed Biernacki had meth and alcohol in his system. Cannabis was found in Lacey’s system while Porter had no drugs or alcohol in his body.
On Tuesday, a Coast Guard escort testified that the captain had been warned that the boat was off course and his speed was only 2 knots.
“If I hear a speed of less than 5 knots, it makes me wary because you’re not going to be able to outrun the waves,” U.S. Coast Guard Chief Jason McCommons said. “At some point, you’re going to get caught by the next set of waves.”
Senior Trooper Heather Van Meter previously testified that Biernacki seemed “impaired” and had slurred speech and bloodshot eyes — but she added it was common for fishermen to work to the point of exhaustion.
“The fleet will push themselves in the weather, the fleet will push themselves even if they haven’t slept for days and days and days,” she said. “They’re going to push themselves … because they need to make a living and they have families. They need to get out.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report