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 (http://www.padi.com/scuba/), 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

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