Captain Pleads Guilty and Company Pleads No Contest
in Fatal Parasailing Accident
St. Thomas, USVI – The captain of a vessel that was involved in a fatal parasailing accident just outside of the Charlotte Amalie Harbor in 2011 pleaded guilty, and the owner of the vessel pleaded no contest today in District Court, announced United States Attorney Ronald W. Sharpe, United States Coast Guard Sector San Juan Commander Captain Drew W. Pearson, and Coast Guard South East Region Criminal Investigative Services Special Agent-in-Charge Jonathan Sall.
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 as 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 on November 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,” U.S. Attorney Sharpe said. “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 victims’ 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 today 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 September 12, 2013.
This case was investigated by the United States Coast Guard, and prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Everard E. Potter.