We'll Never Truly Know if Cosco Busan Pilot was Blitzed on Presciption Pills -- And if Someone Else Hit the Bridge Tomorrow, We'd Also Likely Never Know
An eye-opening article in today's San Francisco Examiner recounted the mountains of hard-core prescription narcotics picked up by Cosco Busan pilot John Cota in the months before he directed the ship into the Bay Bridge. The article was culled from a jaw-droppingly thorough National Transportation and Safety Board investigation into the troubled pilot's medical history. You can read the NTSB file here; when it takes 18 pages to outline your medical conditions, well, that spells trouble.
U.S. Coast Guard You can't blame illegal drugs for this -- but how about legal drugs? And how about the next time?
While the latest NTSB accident report lists "the pilot's degraded cognitive performance from his use of impairing prescription medications" as one of several probable causes for the November 2007 collision, no one other than Cota will ever truly know if he was impaired by a bevy of legal prescription medications at the time of the crash (if he can remember). That's because, per Standard Operating Procedure, a urine sample provided by the pilot only two hours after the collision was destroyed after it tested clean for marijuana, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines, and phencyclidine. Whether the sample would have revealed one of the Johnny Cash-worthy amount of other pills Cota was legally popping is a question for the ages.
When asked why such pertinent evidence would be destroyed, NTSB
spokesman Peter Knudson noted that this is the six-year-old policy
mandated by the Department of Transportation. Specifically: "Negative
specimens (in the form of primary-specimen bottle and the
split-specimen bottle) shall be discarded by the lab." Even positive
samples are to be destroyed after a year without specific notice not to
do so from the government.
So, after all the NTSB's work, if
some other troubled pilot plowed his boat into the bridge tomorrow or
the next day, the same procedure would be followed regarding his urine
Knudson said the NTSB does not have the authority to
override the Department of Transportation's rules on this matter. Well,
neither does SF Weekly, but we think altering this policy seems like a no-brainer.
After all, in this case the question wasn't whether Cota was on some illegal drugs -- but every legal one.
UPDATE: Cota today pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts (in front of the same judge recently overseeing the Barry Bonds circus).