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Description: Miami, Florida criminal lawyer represented Defendant charged with involuntary manslaughter.
ChristopherJones, 58, and AlisonGracey, 55, owned the Key Largo Scuba Shack, LLC, a business that operated charter scuba diving trips in the Florida Keys from approximately June 2010 to December 2011. They operated a 24.8-foot vessel named the M/V Get Wet as part of the business. On December 18, 2011, the M/V Get Wet conducted a scuba trip with two crew members and six passengers. During their first dive stop, sea conditions went from calm to choppy and the boat operator noticed that the bilge pump had failed. As the divers reboarded the boat after the dive, the vessel began taking on water and rolling heavily. The Get Wet ultimately capsized, and quickly sank about 30 feet to the ocean floor. During its descent, a 300-pound bench that was not properly secured to the vessel’s deck detached. Made of buoyant material, the bench sprang toward the ocean’s surface as the vessel itself sank. The two large and heavy objects collided, pinning one of the passenger’s legs against the vessel’s windshield. The passenger was trapped and drowned.
Coast Guard experts later inspected the Get Wet and found serious deficiencies. None of Get Wet’s bilge compartments including the engine spaces below the ship’s deck were watertight. The aftmost bilge space was covered by a deck plate with holes for 30 bolts, 22 of which were missing and the remaining eight were loose. The wood at the bottom of the 300-pound bench was rotten, and the screws intended to secure it to the deck were too small. Beneath the deck, holes that allowed water to flow between the various bilge compartments compromised all the bulkheads. A bilge pump had been disassembled and re-assembled incorrectly, causing it to fail.
The Coast Guard’s criminal investigation following the death of the diver revealed that Jones and Gracey knew before the tragedy that the vessel needed repairs. Jones and Gracey continued operating the M/V Get Wet despite the following, all of which occurred prior to December 18, 2011:
Following inspections, the United States Coast Guard had notified Jones and Gracey that the vessel needed repairs, including securing the center engine bench cover to the deck and making repairs below the deck to insure the water-tight integrity of bulkheads.
The dive operation’s employees repeatedly informed Jones that the Get Wet flooded dangerously. The deck plates were barely attached, and the engine bench cover would rock back and forth.
The Get Wet broke down repeatedly and equipment on the boat failed, including the pumps intended to de-water the vessel.
On one voyage with Gracey aboard as dive master, the Get Wet almost sank.
In the two months before the boat sank, a marine salvor towed the Get Wet to shore on three separate occasions.
Shortly after the diver’s death, Jones and Gracey fled the United States and spent over 10 years moving from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, fighting extradition each time law enforcement found them. They were finally arrested in 2021 in Spain, where Spanish authorities took them into custody based on an Interpol Red Notice. In January 2022, Jones and Gracey were extradited to the United States to face federal charges in Southern District of Florida.
United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Juan Antonio Gonzalez and Zinnia James, Special Agent in Charge, Southeast Region, U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS), announced the results of the sentencing hearing today.
The U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service investigated the case. The U.S. Department of Justice, Office of International Affairs, provided invaluable assistance, pursuing the extradition of the defendants from multiple countries. The U.S. Marshal’s Service also assisted by transporting the defendants from Spain to Florida.
Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaime Raich worked on the investigation and initially prosecuted this case, which Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald is now handling.
Outcome: The Honorable James Lawrence King, Senior United States District Court Judge, sentenced Jones to 51 months of imprisonment and a three-year term of supervised release. Alison Gracey was sentenced to the time she already has served in custody – 18.5 months and a one-year term of supervised release. Both will be deported from the United States at the conclusion of their prison terms.