Captain pleads guilty, company pleads no contest in fatal parasailing accident

Southeastern Coast Guard News
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands — The United States Coast Guard and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of the Virgin Islands announced that the captain of a vessel that was involved in a fatal parasailing accident just outside Charlotte Amalie Harbor in 2011, pleaded guilty, and the owner of the vessel pleaded no contest, to charges under the Seaman’s Manslaughter Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1115, in District Court Monday.

Captain Kyle Coleman, 33, pleaded guilty to operating the motor vessel, Turtle, in a negligent manner, thereby causing the death of a passenger while on a parasailing excursion. CWS Tours, LLC, which owned the vessel, acknowledged that it was negligent with respect to the vessel, and a result someone’s life was destroyed.

According to the plea, Coleman was the captain of the Turtle at the time it was conducting parasailing excursions just south of Water Island Nov. 15, 2011, when a passenger, Bernice G. Kraftcheck, was killed. Kraftcheck and her daughter, Danielle Haese, were hoisted into the air for the parasail ride as wind conditions were deteriorating. The strong winds and a weak towline caused the towline to break, resulting in the parasail separating from the vessel and the two women falling into the water. The wind then propelled the parasail, with the women still attached, at a very high rate of speed causing the death of Kraftcheck and serious injuries to Haese.

“Parasail company owners and operators are entrusted with the safety and welfare of their passengers,” said Ronald W. Sharpe, U.S. Attorney for the District of the Virgin Islands. “ In this case, both the company and the captain violated that trust by failing to observe wind conditions, safely maintain all equipment, and adequately prepare for emergencies. We hope that the victim’s families will take some comfort from the fact that both the company and captain will be held responsible for their criminal negligence.”

“While we will always keep the victims and their loved ones in our thoughts, the guilty pleas provided needed accountability in a court of law,” Capt. Drew W. Pearson said. “All parasail operators should take notice, realizing the serious actions and outcomes the Coast Guard and our partners at the U.S. Attorney’s Office will pursue, to ensure the safety of life at sea.”

Coleman faces a maximum penalty of one year incarceration and a $5,000 fine, plus restitution to the victims. CWS Tours faces a maximum penalty of five years probation and a $250,000 plus restitution to the victims. CWS Tours also agreed to take part in at least two public service announcements produced in conjunction with the Coast Guard promoting the importance of parasailing safety, and cooperate with the reasonable recommendations of the Coast Guard in developing parasailing industry safety procedures.

Sentencing is set for Sept. 12, 2013.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard, and prosecuted by the Assistant United States Attorney Everard E. Potter.

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