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Fired Captain Released After Bail Reduced to $25,000 With PM-Tanker Spill, Bjt

April 6, 1989

RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (AP) _ The fired captain of the Exxon Valdez walked out of jail today after a judge reduced his bail from $1 million to $25,000, calling the higher amount “unconstitutionally excessive.”

Capt. Joseph Hazelwood posted bail, walked out of the Suffolk County jail at 12:59 p.m. and got into a waiting car with attorney Thomas Russo and another lawyer. He did not speak and showed no emotion as he walked off.

On Wednesday, another judge set bail for Hazelwood at $1 million bond or $500,000 cash, comparing the effect of the oil tanker wreck in Alaska to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Justice Thomas Stark, the supervising judge of Suffolk County Criminal Court, today reduced the bail to $25,000 bond or cash.

“The amount of bail is not commensurate with the seriousness of the crime or the effect of the crime on the community,” Stark said of the figure that had shocked even prosecutors.

“We can’t take out our wrath on one individual,” said District Attorney Patrick Henry, whose office originally had requested $25,000 bail.

Hazelwood, who faces three misdemeanor charges in Alaska, is accused of being drunk when he relinquished command of the Exxon Valdez to an uncertified seaman. The vessel then hit a reef March 24, gushing 10.1 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound and creating North America’s worst oil spill.

Judge Kenneth Rohl, a naturalist who comes from a family of professional seamen, set Hazelwood’s bail Wednesday at $1 million bond or $500,000 cash.

″These misdemeanors are of such a magnitude that has never been equaled, at least in this country,″ Rohl said. ″He’s got to think about that. We have a man-made destruction that has not been equaled, probably, since Hiroshima.″

The U.S. bombing of Hiroshima at the end of World War II killed or injured nearly 130,000 people and leveled 90 percent of the Japanese city. No human life has been lost in the oil spill.

Dean Guaneli, Alaska’s assistant attorney general, said the bail order ″expresses the nation’s outrage at what has happened.″

A pale, shaken Hazelwood, whose lawyer had sought $5,000 cash bail, was led from Rohl’s courtroom in handcuffs after his arraignment on the fugitive warrant.

″It was tough for our client to hear,″ said defense attorney Michael Chalos. ″It was very harsh, we thought.″

Hazelwood was taken to the Suffolk County Jail. He was granted 30 days to prepare for an extradition hearing.

Authorities in Alaska have charged him with operating a ship while drunk, reckless endangerment and negligent discharge of oil. He faces 2 1/4 years in prison if convicted.

Hazelwood, 42, of Huntington, N.Y., was fired by Exxon last week after the National Transportation Safety Board said tests taken about nine hours after the Good Friday disaster showed he was under the influence of alcohol.

Rohl said that even though Hazelwood faces only misdemeanors, ″We are not talking about someone breaking someone’s windshield. We are talking about a global catastrophe.″

Russo said his client was no fugitive because ″he left Alaska before any charges had been filed against him.″

″No one is saying this is not a tragedy,″ Russo said, but added: ″Captain Hazelwood is not guilty of these crimes. He did not commit any criminal acts in this affair.″

Hazelwood, who had shaven off his beard, appeared pale and despondent after the judge’s tongue-lashing. When officers put handcuffs on him his hands were sweating and shaking.

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