To the dismay of the victims' families, the owner of the pier that fell into the Delaware River in 2000, killing three young women, was released from house arrest yesterday after serving 11 months of his 11- to 22-month term.

Michael Asbell, 65, of Merion, pleaded no contest to charges of involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and conspiracy last year, after a 2006 trial on more serious charges ended with a hung jury.

His codefendant, Eli Karetny, 67, of Cherry Hill, who had operated the Heat nightclub on Pier 34, was released on April 11 after serving the minimum nine months of his term.

Gail Ramsey, sister of victim DeAnn Wright, said the women's families expected Asbell's early release but were upset nonetheless.

She said they believe the sentences imposed by Common Pleas Court Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper were "too light from the start."

"The girls, their lives mattered, and such a light sentence said their lives didn't matter," said Ramsey.

Asbell, who will remain on probation for seven years, said he was pleased by the judge's decision for his release and added that he would perform his required 1,000 hours of community service at a Philadelphia charter school.

Prosecutors, who opposed the early release, had charged that Asbell and Karetny kept the pier open despite warnings that the aging structure faced imminent collapse.

Killed were White, 25; Jean Marie Ferraro, 27; and Monica Kristina Rodriguez, 21. The three were coworkers at the New Jersey State Aquarium across the river and had gone to the club to celebrate a first day on the job, a promotion, and a coming birthday.

Prosecutors sought a three- to 15-year state prison term each for Asbell and Karetny. But Woods-Skipper said neither defendant had a criminal record nor was likely to again violate the law. Her sentence, she said, was meant to provide "some sense of justice and fairness."

Contact staff writer Joseph A. Gambardello at 215-854-2153 or jgambardello@phillynews.com.

This article contains information from the Associated Press.