Thursday, December 19, 2013

Part 3: What I'd like to see for the future

So, now we know how Aimee died, and who was responsible. Now, what would I wish for in regards to the future, as a result of all of this?

Assuming I couldn't undo what's been done and bring Aimee back to life, there are three big things I wish I could make happen in the aftermath of Aimee's death:

I took this photo on my and Aimee's
honeymoon, ironically, off the
coast of Florida. Aimee's own sun set
there five and a half years later
  1. All scuba dive shops in the U.S. would be required to carry insurance. Seriously, at least in Florida, they aren't. Key Largo Scuba Shack had no insurance, so after Aimee died and the owners decided to stay in another country, there was no way we could go after them to compensate us for the tremendous loss we'd suffered (Aimee's income, a myriad of increased expenses, not to mention the huge emotional toll). I think it's criminal - literally - that businesses can operate in an industry that contains a great deal of personal risk (especially when not done correctly), and not be required to carry insurance.
  2. Any vessel that took passengers out onto the ocean commercially would be required to pass annual Coast Guard inspections, even if they only took out a few people. That may be unrealistic, but it's horrible that a business can sidestep the rules to put innocent people at risk on a boat as bad as the Get Wet. Even if a boat is going to be used as a "6 pack" (six or fewer passengers), it should be required to at least once pass a Coast Guard inspection before it can be used commercially. Or maybe once every five years. 
  3. Jones and Gracey would be brought back to the U.S. to face whatever legal consequences there might be as a result of their horrific management of Key Largo Scuba Shack. They knowingly and willfully cut corners in ways that made their operation unsafe for their passengers AND crew. They put people's well-being at risk, and as a result killed one person and nearly killed another. They ought to face the consequences of their actions.*

Of these three, they're all either long shots or practically impossible. But that doesn't mean some how, in some way, I won't try. Aimee's story, and her legacy, are from over, I'll tell you that.

Part 1: Here's what really happened on December 18, 2011
Part 2: Who was involved in Aimee's death, and how


*A note on why #3 isn't going to happen: Apparently, countries almost never extradite their own citizens to other countries to face charges. Among those is the U.K., where Jones and Gracey are from. From what I was told by someone in the Florida Attorney General's office, countries that are part of the British Commonwealth of nations will typically never arrest and extradite British citizens to countries that are not part of that Commonwealth, and from the last I heard these two are living in the British Virgin Islands or some such similar place. In other words, they're probably never going to face the music for what they did.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

2 year anniversary, and words that brought me to tears

Today marks the two year anniversary of Aimee's death. While I had planned on posting Part 3 of the series I wrote on Aimee's death, I'm going to postpone that until tomorrow.

Instead, I am going to share with you these words, written last night by a friend of mine (and Aimee's), and one of the first things I saw this morning. If you read only part of this, read the third paragraph (in italics). It's so beautiful, and so dead-on, it brought me to tears.

From Kristi:

"Two years ago tomorrow as I was getting ready to head to St. Joseph's Hospital for my 10th surgery of this humbling medical journey [blood disorder], I learned of the passing of my dear friend, Aimee. 

Filled with grief, when the Chaplain came in to pray for my surgery, we instead spent the time praying for Aimee and her family, especially her husband (also a dear friend) and daughter. Goosebumps resulted when I thought of how Aimee would have also been full of the same comforting words, much like the Chaplain's. Her joyful spirit and sweet smile often gave all of those she knew a wonderful sense of peace. I felt her with me that day and knew the surgery would be complication free.

It's the last operation I had and although the recovery was a long road, and this wacky blood of mine continues to humble me and to teach me my limits, it also has provided me with a renewed commitment to embrace each day as a gift. I now live life for today, with a much more open heart and a tender forgiving spirit, trying to learn, to love, and to journey down the path that God is constantly revealing. I take more risks now. I attempt things I wouldn't have dreamed of two years ago. In the blink of an eye, after all, inexplicable tragedies or a medical issue or unexpected news, can quickly change everything.

So on this day, a day not promised that also marks the two year anniversary of her passing, do what Aimee would have done. Provide comforting words to a friend. Be a joyful spirit to someone who is hurting. Offer a genuine smile to a stranger. Buy someone a cup of coffee. And never stop trying to find peace, both in your own heart and through the friends and family in your circle. In these small ways and more, we can honor an amazing wife, daughter, sister, mother, and friend.
God bless you and keep you, precious Aimee. Thank you for the beautiful lessons you taught us while you were on this Earth. And thank you for the peace you provide as you watch over all of us from heaven."

Thank you, Kristi, for amazing and beautiful about an amazing and beautiful woman.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Part 2 - Who was involved in Aimee's death, and how

When we lose someone tragically or unexpectedly, it's natural to want to know the answer to one simple question:

Whose fault is this?

In  the case of Aimee, her death was the result of a series of actions, inactions, and decisions, where any single one of them being different probably means that Aimee doesn't die on that boat.

Here are the people who I feel are responsible for Aimee's death, and why or how. Except for the last one, which is the party I hold most responsible, these are not necessarily in a particular order:

Who: The boat captain, John (yes, I am intentionally leaving out most people's last names).
Why: John was about 19 years old at the time of the accident, and seems to me probably wasn't terribly experienced. Which may be why he seemed to think that instead of getting people OFF of a sinking ship, he thought to have them move further up into the cabin, under the hard top, to try and bring the front of the boat down to counterbalance the sinking back end. From all accounts, there's no way in hell that boat had a chance to get back to port, and he should have known that and gotten people off the boat. He didn't do that.

Who: Kara, the dive master.
Why: While the boat began taking on water at a dangerous rate, she stood by and waited for the boat captain to do something (I got this directly from her own statements during one of her depositions). She was older (albeit not by a lot) and had more boating experience, and I don't think it would have been unreasonable for her to make decisions to protect the safety of her students. But that's not the only thing I think makes her partially responsible for Aimee's death.

When the boat capsized and people got to the surface, it was clear two people were missing. The ones who'd gotten out were able to grab the raft floating in the water, and another boat was nearby and approaching to rescue them. The boat captain grabbed scuba gear and went after the missing people. Why didn't Kara? The two people missing were both HER beginning students, and she was a licensed and experienced dive master. Why the hell did she not try to help rescue both people? If she'd gone down in the water with John, they might have gotten them BOTH up in time to save them.

Who: PADI (, which stands for Professional Association of Diving Instructors. Why: They are an organization that trains and licenses scuba instructors, and they allow dive shops to post their logo and propaganda to lend them a sense of legitimacy. In fact, my lawyer showed me some literature that indicated that PADI does some sort of "quality inspection" of a dive shop as part of the certification process. Well, maybe they do, but apparently they're not especially thorough. The boat they inspected wasn't the one Key Largo Scuba Shack actually used, and PADI had no idea. Didn't PADI check to see if this was the only boat KLSS owned and planned to use? They also had no idea that the boat Key Largo Scuba Shack WAS using was a piece of crap, repeatedly breaking down and having to be towed in. Yet they were content to list KLSS on their site as an implied endorsement. Sadly, that's exactly how Aimee ended up on that boat. Her brother and sister-in-law had done some diving, and found Key Largo Scuba Shack on the PADI web site. Assuming that meant it was a reputable dive shop, they went diving with them that week, and suggested it to Aimee as well.

Who: Mike & Judy S.
Why: There was some dispute about their role in the management or ownership of the Key Largo Scuba Shack. I recall seeing a news report that listed Mike as the manager. I heard they were minority owners. They claimed that they held no ownership, but had simply loaned the primary owners money. Regardless their official role, it seems clear they were involved in a hands-on way, which means they could have had some say in the maintenance and care of the boat and other equipment. At the very least, I feel they had a moral obligation to intervene if the boat was unsafe and they knew it.

Who: The U.S. Coast Guard.
Why: In a way, it is quite unfair to list them here. They conducted a thorough investigation, as best as I can tell. And leading up to the events of December 18, they did what they were bound to do.

So why are they on this list?

Vessels used to carry passengers commercially, or at least dive boats in Florida, are subject to annual Coast Guard inspection. However, there are too many boats, and not nearly enough resources for the Coast Guard to inspect them all, so an exception is made for "6-packs" - boats that carry six or fewer passengers. This leads us to the sad history of the Get Wet (the boat Aimee died in). It was large enough to carry more a larger load of passengers; however, since it had apparently failed a number of Coast Guard inspections, KLSS decided to reclassify it as a 6-pack to avoid any further inspections.

Still, the boat was so bad that it broke down multiple times, and had to be towed in. The owners were supposed to file reports of this to the Coast Guard, but apparently never did. Again, not the Coast Guard's fault, but they also have nothing in place to monitor these types of incidents and follow up, which then puts the lives of innocent people like Aimee at risk.

I maintain that it should be enforceable policy that if a boat fails a Coast Guard inspection, it can't be used (at least not commercially) until it does.

All of this leads us to...

Who: Last but not least, Chris Jones and Alison Gracey. Yes, THEY get their last names used.
The Key Largo Scuba Shack logo,
taken from their Facebook page
Why: These two are the primary owners of what was once Key Largo Scuba Shack. These pieces of garbage were in the Bahamas opening a new Scuba Shack branch when Aimee was killed, and as British citizens, decided they'd be better off staying there and not returning to the U.S. to face what had happened.

And why wouldn't they want to?

Because, my good friends, they are the ones most directly responsible for Aimee being dead. And they know it.

They took shortcuts on the care and maintenance of the boat, which is why it was in such bad shape (hatches not fastened or properly sealed). The life jackets were nowhere to be seen. And the fire extinguisher had expired more than a year earlier. Every time that boat went out, they jeopardized people's lives, and they didn't give a shit.
From the Facebook page of Key Largo Scuba Shack on
December 8, 2011. It was the last post they made on  their page

As I already mentioned, the boat had broken down multiple times, yet they patched it up (as opposed to really fixing the boat's problems) and kept sending it out, and they failed to report these incidents to the Coast Guard. The huge hatch/storage bench wasn't properly sealed to keep water out of the hull, or fastened to the deck to keep it from coming loose. Which is why the boat sank, and when it did, that huge box broke loose and pinned Aimee to the window, trapping her in the boat and causing her to drown.

In summary, there were a number of "critical elements", of which if any single one of them had been different, Aimee likely wouldn't have died:

  • Coast Guard inspected the boat and refused to allow it to be used any ANY commercial use until it passed
  • Chris Jones and Alison Gracey had taken proper care of the boat, particularly making sure all hatches were sealed and secured
  • Mike and Judy had intervened and either taken care of the boat or notified the Coast Guard of the boat's problems or breakdowns
  • PADI had been less concerned with making money off of sales of their materials and classes and more concerned with making sure that the dive shops they implicitly endorsed were in fact reputable
  • John hadn't had his passengers move up to the front under the hard top, but instead moved them near the back and had them put on life preservers
  • Kara had intervened and had passengers do the above when John did not
  • Kara had ensured the other passengers were above water and about to be rescued, then grabbed some scuba gear and joined John in the rescue efforts of the two missing people

Next: Part 3 - What I wish for the outcome of all of this
ICYMI: Part 1: Here's what happened on December 18, 2011

Monday, December 16, 2013

Part 1: Here's what happened on December 18, 2011

This post has been a long time coming...

I am going to tell you, as best as I can ascertain, what happened on December 18, 2011. The information here is culled from conversations with investigators, and my own reading of the accident reports and witness statements. I will not claim everything as absolute fact, because if you've ever been involved in any way with a disastrous incident, you know that things can be so chaotic that it's possible that no one will be able to determine the exact correctness of every detail. That being said, this account, I'm confident, is pretty right on.

On the afternoon of December 18, the Key Largo Scuba Shack boat "Get Wet" was moored at Molasses Reef off the coast of the Florida Keys. There were six divers, three of them "discover" divers (beginners, who had gone through the training that morning in a pool), and three more experienced divers, one of whom was Aimee's sister-in-law Caroline. Aimee was one of the discover divers, going on her first-ever scuba dive excursion.

While the divers were out on the first of two planned dives, water started coming over the back (stern) of the boat as the waves picked up a bit. Since the transom (back wall) of the boat had a section cut out to allow divers on and off the boat (as opposed to a door that opened and closed, and might have had some seal around it to keep water out), the water came onto the deck. Normally, the water would roll back off, but the engine hatch, which also held a large bench and storage bin built into it, was not properly sealed, nor was it properly secured. Other hatches also appear to have been both improperly sealed or secured.

Since there were hatches that were not sealed, water began spilling down into the hull of the boat, and at an alarming rate. Further complicating matters, the bilge pump (which pumps water out of a boat's hull) stopped working. The boat captain, John, posted this on his Facebook page while the divers were in the water.

As the first dive was completed and the divers returned to the boat, the water situation was becoming worse. Apparently there was some discussion about whether or not the second dive would happen, and there seem to be conflicting reports on whether or not the boat was headed to the second dive or headed back to port. As best as I can tell, the boat captain was taking the boat back to shore.

As the boat continued to take on water, and the stern dragged deeper into the water, the captain had the divers move farther towards the front, under the hard top of the boat. Apparently, he was trying to counterbalance the dragging back end by putting more weight at the front. There seemed to be a brief and tense conversation between the dive instructor (Kara) and John. At some point, John apparently also sent out a distress call, which was overheard by a nearby boat. Then, moments later, the Get Wet rocked hard to the left (port) as the amount of water in the hull reached a critical level, and then the boat capsized, sinking stern first.

When the boat rolled, Aimee was thrown from the starboard (right) side to the other. The unsecured engine hatch (the huge bench/box in the photo below) broke loose from its place and pinned her to the front window of the boat. Caroline was pushed out a window by Kara, and most of the others found their way out as well. The exception was a young man from New Jersey by the name of Amit, who was also trapped in the boat (though in a different place).
This large bench is also the engine hatch. Although it's in
its proper place in this post-accident photo, this is what
apparently broke loose and pinned Aimee to the front
window of the boat. This photo was taken as part of the
 investigation after the boat was salvaged from the water 

As those who escaped the boat reached the surface, they found a raft that had been on the top of the Get Wet now floating in the water, and they made their way to that. At this time, is also became apparent that two people were missing. John, the boat captain, grabbed some scuba dive equipment that was floating in the water and headed down to the now sunken boat. Another scuba dive boat (The "Visibility") moored nearby, which had heard the distress call moments earlier, pulled anchor and headed over to rescue the people in the water.

After a short period of time, and after the people on the "Visibility" had rescued those in the water, John resurfaced with Amit, who was unconscious and not breathing. Amit was pulled onto the Visibility, and someone on the boat began CPR. John then re-submerged to find Aimee.

When John returned to the sunken boat, he first found one of Aimee's arms sticking out a window. When he pulled on it to try and free her, he was unsuccessful, so he went back into the boat and essentially through the engine hatch, under which Aimee was still pinned. Finding where she was stuck, he freed her, and then brought her to the surface. By this time, Amit had been revived and was receiving oxygen, though he was still unconscious. Aimee was pulled on board and people began to administer CPR. The Visibility then headed towards the shore.

Although CPR was administered to Aimee during the entire ride (roughly 25 minutes), she never resumed breathing. EMS met the boat as it arrived on shore, and EMTs took over the CPR. But apparently they stopped fairly quickly, recognizing the futility of their efforts. They pronounced her dead, and left Aimee's body on the boat until the Medical Examiner's Office arrived to take possession of her body.

Amit was taken to a local hospital, then flown to a hospital in Miami. From what information I have, he has made a complete recovery (at least physically).

At some point after the boat reached shore, Caroline called her husband (Aimee's brother) Justin and told him he needed to come to the marina immediately, that something had happened with the boat. Justin, frantic, asked me for the keys to my rental car, sharing only that there was a problem with the boat and he needed to go. He left, and did not return my texts or calls while he was gone. I don't recall how long that was, but it felt like an eternity.

When he returned, he was with two law enforcement officers, a member of the local clergy, and a victim's advocate. Caroline was also with him, although she stayed in the car for some time before she came into the house.

That's when I received the terrible news: Aimee was dead.

There are a few things I have focused on in regards to this accident, some of which I'll expand more on in the next post. 1. Why were the hatches not properly sealed to prevent water from getting into the hull in such catastrophic amounts? 2. Why was the engine hatch not properly fastened to the deck, the failure to do so being the reason Aimee was pinned in the boat? 3. Instead of trying to save the boat by putting people toward the front of the boat and under the hard top, why weren't people put in life jackets and moved to a position where they could easily escape if necessary? And finally, 4. Why did the dive master, the person likely most responsible for the well-being of those beginning divers, not also attempt to help rescue the two people who were missing?

Like I said, I'll get more into these in the next post.

Part 2: The various players in this tragedy, and my determination of their role in Aimee's death
Part 3. What I'd like to see in the aftermath of Aimee's death

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What's coming next on this blog

Last month, nearly two years after Aimee's death, I finally asked my lawyer for a copy of the official accident report. We'd had conversations with one of the accident investigators early on, and had an idea, at least unofficially, what had happened. But to date I had never read the official report.

Last week, I sat down and read the whole thing in one sitting.

Truth be told, there wasn't a lot there I didn't already know. I had incorrectly remembered exactly how the water started getting into the hull of the boat, but otherwise the particulars of the incident were pretty much already known to me. What was both informative but extremely difficult to read was the statement by the boat's captain, where he described finding Aimee and trying to get her out of the sunken boat. It gave me some insight as to why she might not have been able to escape the boat, but created a distinct and very disturbing visual of her predicament in her final moments.

So I am now in the process of putting together a three-part blog series about the incident, with those parts being:

1. My understanding of what happened that day
2. Who are the players, and what role did they have in Aimee's death
3. What I'd like to see, in the future, in a perfect world

Thursday, December 5, 2013

When Aimee's mother met my new girlfriend

This is one of those posts I wrote months ago (last spring, actually), but didn't feel like it was a good time to post it. Obviously, some things have changed since then.

Donna has been aware of my dating Sarah since basically the beginning. While she'd been very supportive of the idea of me getting out and dating again, once I was actually dating someone, it became a little harder for her, at least initially. There was no way around it - in a way, I was on my way to replacing her daughter. Donna saw that eventually someone else was going to fill some of the roles that Aimee had filled, particularly Aimee's roles as my companion and as Rowan's mother. And I realized that if I did in fact get remarried someday, that would also potentially bring in new grandparents, aunts, uncles, and more. More relatives to share attention with. More people 'competing' for Rowan's time, attention, and possibly affection. (Donna doesn't care a whit about getting my attention.) :)

But I give Donna a huge amount of credit. She also remembered what it was like to lose a spouse, and she completely understood my desire to find companionship again. I also assured her that seeing someone for more than a few months did not automatically indicate wedding bells in our future. This would take time.

So she continued to be supportive and understanding, and she trusted how I handled things with Rowan. It also continued to be hard for her, but she bucked up and bore it.

And then Donna and Sarah met.

I was preparing to go out of town for work for a few days, and Donna came by the house to pick up Rowan. Sarah was there spending a few hours with me before I left, and I let Donna know that Sarah was there so it wouldn't catch her off guard. Donna said that was fine.

When she arrived, the three of us (Sarah, Rowan, and I) were out in front of my house enjoying the last bit of sunshine of the day. As Donna got out of her car, she immediately walked over to Sarah and hugged her. I was amazed. In that one brief moment, Donna put Sarah at ease and her own discomfort aside, and welcomed her.

I honestly didn't know what to expect, but that wasn't it. Seeing Donna's reaction was so heartwarming to me, knowing that she'd do whatever she had to to support me - I just appreciated it so much. And it reminded me once again how lucky I am to have the people in my life that I do.

Everyone else has also been extremely supportive, both of me dating again, and of Sarah specifically. Although Donna is the only person from Aimee's family to meet Sandra, Justin and Caroline have expressed a desire to do so, and support us being together (as of when this was originally written last spring). The same for Aimee's closest friends.

As I said, I am truly a blessed man.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Big Announcement

With the continuation of legal proceedings in Florida over the last couple of years, I have stayed pretty quiet about my relationship with the woman I have referred to as 'Sandra' on this blog. Her name is actually Sarah, and now that the legal crap is pretty much out of the way, I plan to be a lot more open about our relationship.

The significance of this is that while she and I have undergone a number of struggles and experiences that are directly related to my dealing with Aimee's death, I haven't felt free to talk about that here. It's one of the main reasons I haven't posted much this year - most of what I've gone through has been in the intersection between Aimee's death and my relationship with Sarah. So in the coming weeks, I plan to share some of those things here, in hopes that people who've gone through similar situations might learn from my mistakes experiences.

By next summer the last name on
the jersey will be her last name too!
But for now, I am just going to share this one small, insignificant bit of news:

We're getting married!

Yes, Sarah and I became engaged about a month and a half ago (a little more than a year after we started dating), and are already full steam into planning our wedding, which will happen next summer. 

This development has brought on a whole new set of things we're dealing with, which will also be the topic of some future blog post.

I feel I would be remiss if I did not mention that although Sarah is walking into a very complicated situation, she's handled it with an incredible amount of grace, patience, understanding, and humor. She's going from being a single woman with no children (or in-laws) to becoming a wife and mother with what amounts to TWO sets of in-laws. Because I'll tell all of you this: Aimee's family is still exactly that - family. Not just Aimee's, but mine and Rowan's as well. And soon, Sarah's. And as I saw on Thanksgiving, they are embracing her and she them.

So that's the big news, and all I have for now. More - much more - coming.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Thanksgiving, and some important news is coming

First, let me say I hope all of you had a happy and blessed Thanksgiving. I really did, which I'll dig deeper into momentarily.

But first, I have some news. Well, ok, it's not news itself, but rather letting you know that in the coming weeks, there WILL be news, and lots of it. This blog is going to really come alive again for a while, as I have a lot of things to share... soon.

In the meantime, I'm going to share some things I'm incredibly thankful for, and a little about my Thanksgiving.
A photo of Caroline from
her blog, Caroline in Space

  • I'm thankful that for now, at least, the legal proceedings in Florida are about wrapped up. I'm anxious to have that chapter in my life closed and behind me.
  • I got to spend time on Thanksgiving with Justin and Caroline. Since we live across the U.S. from each other, I don't get to see them as often as I'd like. I was particularly excited to see Carline because...
  • Caroline is pregnant! They're having their first child, a daughter. And in a move that brought tears to my eyes when Justin told me, they're going to name the baby...
  • Aimee.

I also need to say I am so thankful for my relationship with Aimee's family since her death. Donna has been an incredible help and support, going WAY above and beyond to be a help to me, and to play an important role in Rowan's life. Donna tells Rowan stories about Aimee, shares keepsakes and old photos with Rowan, and in general just takes amazing care of her when she's babysitting. I am so blessed to have such a wonderful resource, and Rowan is blessed to have such an important link to her mother.

But it goes beyond just that. As I've been dating 'Sandra' for over a year now, Donna has been so supportive of that as well, and has really embraced Sandra and her role in my and Rowan's lives. Justin and Caroline have embraced Sandra as well, inviting her to join all of us on Thanksgiving. We all had a really nice time.

I could go on and on about all that I'm thankful for, but I'll leave it at this for now. And watch in the coming days and weeks, as there will be lots of stuff coming out. One of the biggest pieces of news will be coming tomorrow or the next day.

And yes, it relates to 'Sandra'.