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Seattle duck boat CEO says he was unaware of axle safety warning

CEO of Ride the Ducks Seattle testifies at trial for 2015 fatal crash (PHOTO: KOMO News)

The CEO of Ride the Ducks Seattle told a jury he takes personal responsibility for the crash that killed five people more than three years ago. Brian Tracey also said he was unaware of a recommendation to fix an issue with the duck’s front axle.

A front axle failure caused the duck to swerve head on into a bus in the middle of the Aurora Bridge on Sept. 24, 2015, killing 5 international students inside.

Ride the Ducks Seattle, Ride the Ducks International, The City of Seattle and the State of Washington are being sued by 42 plaintiffs with claims that safety concerns where ignored. Much of the questioning of Tracey focused on the company’s treatment of service bulletins and vehicle maintenance.

“The buck stops everywhere with me,” Tracey told the court.

Being questioned was what did he know and when did he know of a service bulletin recommending an inspection and fix of that front axle that had been issued 2 years before the accident. Earlier testimony showed some staff at Ride the Ducks Seattle knew of the bulletin and did an inspection but did not do the recommended welding fix.

“Service bulletins never got to my desk,” Tracey said. He said the responsibility would have fallen on his operations manager to take action.

“If he felt it was important, he would have brought it to my attention,” Tracey said. When the plaintiff’s attorney, Karen Koelher, asked if he had done that, Tracey said no.

NTSB investigators said metal fatigue played a role in the front axle veering off, causing the duck to crash into the bus. It also said the recommended fix would not have prevented the accident.

“Everybody in my company was responsible for safety, oversight of safety and that included oversight of everybody,” Tracey said.

But Koehler painted a picture of a company wrestling with maintenance issues that were costly and a struggle with hiring enough mechanics to keep the fleet on the road.

“I never withheld any expenses for something that had to do with safety, but I was unaware of the safety bulletin,” Tracey said.

The jury submitted several questions to the judge to ask Tracey on their behalf. One juror wanted to know if Tracey felt he was "personally responsible” for the accident.

“I do feel responsible,” he said. “It was the worst day of my life, there isn’t a moment I don’t think about it every single day."

Koehler’s final question hit at the heart of the lawsuit.

“Did you use your ignorance of what was going on in your company to avoid spending money for safety?” Koehler asked.

Tracey responded, “absolutely not."

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