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May 2010    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 36, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Judge Calls Mistrial For a “Too Taxing” Stranded-Diver Case

from the May, 2010 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

A Los Angeles judge declared a mistrial in the case of a diver left at sea because - - get this - - the trial was taking too long. Daniel Carlock, 51, filed a $4 million lawsuit against Ocean Adventures Dive in Los Angeles and Sundiver Charters in Huntington Beach in 2005 after he was left seven miles off Newport Beach during a group dive. Since Carlock only spent five hours drifting, he’s looking for about $800,000 an hour.

Testimony in the case began March 9, and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Soussan Bruguera had expected it to be over by the end of the month. But after the lawyers told her on March 22 there were 13 more witnesses still to be called, Bruguera declared a mistrial, saying the three-week trial had evolved into ‘Alice and Wonderland.’ “It’s too taxing for the jurors and too taxing for the (court’s) calendar.” She said another court with a less packed calendar should handle the case.

On the morning of April 25, 2004, in foggy conditions, Carlock was left at an oil rig off of Newport Beach, separated from about 20 other divers. He was swimming with three dive buddies when he had problems equalizing the pressure in his ears and fell behind. He tried following his partners’ bubbles but he lost them. He decided to end his dive after 15 minutes but when he surfaced, he was 400 feet down current from an oil platform where the Sundiver was anchored. He couldn’t make the up-current swim and decided to wait, blowing his whistle and waving a yellow inflatable tube. A Boy Scout troop from San Diego sailing back from Santa Catalina Island rescued Carlock after five hours.

Testimony to date in the now-abandoned trial centered on whose fault it was that Carlock was left after the Sundiver continued on to a second dive site 10 miles away, where staff members finally noticed Carlock was gone. But they called the Coast Guard to the second dive site to look for him. Defense attorneys maintain Carlock is to blame because he was careless for not staying by the oil rig as instructed.

During the trial, Captain Ray Leslie Arntz testified his job was to steer the Sundiver, not oversee who left and returned during the voyage. “I would probably not have that knowledge,” Arntz testified. “My job was to navigate the vessel and keep it from getting too close to the rig.” He said keeping track of the divers was the job of Zacarias Araneta, the on-board divemaster and Andy Huber, the divemaster in the water. Arntz testified that he cut the first dive short because of choppy water. He learned Carlock was missing when Araneta told him after the second dive. He then confirmed Carlock was not on board. The two sides disputed whether Huber was Carlock’s dive buddy.

After the boat went to the second location, someone wrote on the dive roster that Carlock left the ship for a second dive at 11:17 a.m., though he was still at the first site. Araneta testified that when he took roll call, someone answered for Carlock but he didn’t know which of the seven divers onboard it was. He acknowledged that he usually looks at each diver as he takes roll, but didn’t do so that day.

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