RALEIGH, NC (NEWS RELEASE) -– United States Attorney Thomas G. Walker announced that in federal court today THOMAS POVAZAN, 45, of West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, pled guilty before United States District Judge Terrence W. Boyle to a violation of the Seaman’s Manslaughter Act, Title 18, United States Code, Section 1115.
United States Attorney Thomas G. Walker reflected, “We hope that the families of the deceased victims will take some comfort from this prosecution, knowing that Mr. Povazan will be held responsible for his criminally negligent conduct.”
According to the Criminal Information filed on September 21, 2012, and information presented in open court, POVAZAN was a licensed mariner, working as the captain of the motor vessel (M/V) Tied High in connection with a parasailing business operation. As a result of his negligence, two women died.
On August 28, 2009, at approximately 1:00 p.m., the M/V Tied High departed from Ocean Isle Beach, NC. The M/V Tied High was rigged for parasailing activities. In addition to the master (POVAZAN) and the deckhand, there were twelve paying passengers onboard, including four children ages twelve, eleven, eight and five years of age.
At the time the vessel departed, the weather was rapidly deteriorating due to the proximity of an approaching severe weather system. The National Weather Service issued a small craft advisory on the evening of August 27, 2009, which was to last through August 29, 2009, noting that seas in excess of 6ft were expected to produce hazardous conditions to small craft due to tropical storm Danny located offshore. By 6:25 a.m. on August 28, 2009, National Weather Service included additional weather warnings due to a quickly approaching and separate severe weather system which included showers and thunderstorms, as well as winds of 11-17 mph with gusts of 23 mph, increasing to 17-23 mph later in the day. Throughout the day, marine weather broadcasts and local news stations provided coverage of the impending severe weather system, and detailed the anticipated path of the band of thunderstorms toward Ocean Isle and the Outerbanks of North Carolina.
At approximately 1:01 p.m. on August 28, 2009, in addition to the previous small craft advisory, the National Weather Service issued a special weather statement declaring that wind gusts were expected to be up to 30 mph and heavy rains were also expected. POVAZAN, however, did not check the weather prior to departing the dock nor did he have his VHF Radio on to monitor the weather.
At approximately 1:40 p.m., POVAZAN directed the deckhand to use a parachute labeled for maximum wind speeds of 12 mph. The deckhand placed the two victims into the parasailing equipment and pushed them off of the vessel.
POVAZAN subsequently realized that the winds were too strong and attempted to recover the towline. At approximately 1:50 p.m., the towline broke and the victims fell to the ocean surface. The wind then caught the parasail, dragging the victims violently through the water away from the vessel.
POVAZAN navigated the vessel alongside the parasail. When slightly ahead of the parasail, he ordered the deckhand to jump from the vessel in an attempt to deflate the parasail. The deckhand was unsuccessful.
POVAZAN, without recovering the deckhand, navigated the vessel on a course directly in the path of the women. The victims, who were still being dragged by the parasail through the ocean, struck the stern of the vessel. The inflated parasail then carried the victims over the stern of the boat and back into the ocean. The victims continued to be dragged through the water.
POVAZAN returned for the deckhand. After recovering the deckhand, the master took chase again. Once he caught up with the parasail, he again ordered the deckhand to jump from the vessel. The deckhand was successful in deflating the parasail. POVAZAN and the M/V Tied High, with 10 passengers, were drifting toward Ocean Isle Pier and ultimately, the vessel beached upon Ocean Isle Beach, leaving the deckhand in the water with both victims.
Around 2:06 p.m., the victims were pulled from the water and declared deceased on the scene. The medical examiner reported that both victims sustained severe blunt force trauma to the head and body.
"Parasail operators are entrusted with the safety of their innocent passengers, and this case serves to highlight the consequences of violating that trust by failing to appropriately consider risks, prepare for emergencies and exercise due care," said Rear Adm. Steven Ratti, Commander of the Coast Guard's 5th District.
"The Coast Guard Investigative Service is fully committed to investigating and resolving all criminal allegations of negligence by licensed mariners in connection with parasailing business operations," said Otis E. Harris Jr., Special Agent in Charge, Chesapeake Region.
The marine casualty investigation was conducted by United States Coast Guard – 5th District and Coast Guard Sector North Carolina. The criminal investigation of this case was conducted by the United States Coast Guard Investigative Service.
Assistant United States Attorney Banumathi Rangarajan and Special Assistant United States Attorney and Staff Attorney – Coast Guard 5th District Lt. Elizabeth Oliveira are prosecuting the case.