LOCKPORT, N.Y. (WIVB) — No criminal charges will be filed following an investigation into the fatal capsizing boat incident in the Lockport Cave.
The Lockport Police Department announced Friday that they have completed their investigation into the June 12 incident that left 65-year-old Harshad Shah dead and 11 people injured.
Still, the future of the Lockport Cave, and whether another boat will ever touch the water again, is unclear.
“The owners, I believe, hope to be able to reopen at full capacity at some point. We’re thankful that one part of this tragedy is behind us but unfortunately, there’s also a civil litigation that’s happening,” said Lockport Mayor Michelle Roman.
Police said after a full review of gathered information and in consultation with the Niagara County District Attorney, they determined that there was not “sufficient evidence” to support criminal charges in relation to the incident. The investigation has since been closed.
The family of Harshad Shah, as well as others on the boat at the time it capsized, filed notices of claim against the Lockport Cave Company, county and state agencies, and the City of Lockport.
“In order so that they can move forward, it has to go through the insurance and court process. So, that’s where they’re at right now with the civil litigation,” Roman said.
Shah was one of 28 passengers on a boat tour operated by the Lockport Cave and Underground Boat Ride when the boat flipped over. Shah was said to have been trapped under the boat after it capsized.
The group of passengers were a part of a Destination Niagara USA tour and were all from Western New York.
Robert Pecoraro, who was on the boat, says he hopes to see change before the cave puts another boat in the water.
“I don’t know what the rules and regulations are as far as what the police department was looking at. I do know however that there was no safety briefing before we got on the boat. There were no life preservers on that boat and there was no accounting for weight and balance,” Pecoraro said.
One day after the incident, the Lockport Cave tour was deemed “unsafe due to electrical issues” and closed, but reopened in August.
Tours have been conducted since 1976 inside the cave system, which was created roughly 150 years ago. Since its establishment, the City of Lockport had no files of inspection reports or code violations, according to a document previously obtained by News 4.
According to Lockport police, if additional information was to become available in the future, it will be reviewed and authorities will determine whether or not the case should be reopened.
“If there is oversight then I don’t have a problem with them reopening, but only if there’s oversight and anything that perhaps was in the report was corrected,” added Pecoraro.
If the cave does reopen in the future, plans are in motion to put the state in charge of yearly inspections and code enforcement.
“State legislature at the Senate and Assembly have a bill in committee to have it be oversight through New York state parks. Hopefully they’ll get that passed and the governor will sign that and then they’ll have some true oversight to then ensure public safety,” Roman said.