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September 2008    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 23, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Dive Instructor Charged with Homicide

from the September, 2008 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dive instructors do make mistakes, but rarely do they lead to murder charges. In this unfortunate case, Allison Rainey Gibson, a 44-year-old dive instructor in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, faces charges of criminally negligent homicide involving the death of her 21-year-old student Zachary Moore in April 2007. Moore’s father, Chris, is also filing a civil lawsuit against Gibson, her former employer Venture Sports, and Scuba Schools International (SSI), the agency that certified her as an openwater instructor.

As a University of Alabama student, Moore enrolled in “Beginning Scuba Diving,” organized by Venture Sports and taught by Gibson. On April 17, the class took part in a “doff and don” drill, removing their equipment, descending to the bottom of the 18-foot, Olympic-sized pool, recovering their gear and staying at depth breathing from regulators until everyone finished the drill. According to the civil lawsuit, Gibson was not in the pool during the training exercise. Instead, she was giving a private lesson to Lewis Fitts, not enrolled in the class, at the opposite end of the pool. She appointed her two assistants, Mark Forrester and Henry McIntyre, to oversee the drill but both were only certified as openwater divers and had no instructor qualifications.

Moore ascended after taking off his gear but was found floating face-down on the surface. An autopsy revealed he had inhaled the compressed air while descending but didn’t exhale while swimming to the surface. Moore, Forrester and McIntyre removed him from the pool and called 911. Moore was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead from a lung overexpansion injury and an arterial gas embolism.

Besides charging Gibson with neglecting her students and putting inexperienced people in charge of them, Chris Moore’s lawsuit also claims SSI didn’t adequately train Gibson to respond to the medical emergency. The class had approximately 20 students, but SSI standards state that the maximum number for deep water training should be eight students to one instructor, 10 to two with a certified assistant, and 12 to three with two certified assistants.

After a Tuscaloosa County grand jury reviewed the evidence in June, it handed down a misdemeanor charge of criminally negligent homicide. Gibson turned herself into police but was released from jail on $5,000 bail. Criminally negligent homicide in Alabama is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. Moore’s civil suit does not specify monetary damages sought, and only asks a jury to award “such sums as the jury may assess and are recoverable by law.” Neither party would comment to Undercurrent but Moore’s lawyer Robert Mitchell says he expects the case to take months till closure.

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