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November 2014    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 29, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Shady Operator Sent to Prison for a Diverís Death

from the November, 2014 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Ever since his youth, Ernest "Mark" Rascon had been a trusting guy. Unfortunately, he trusted a man who didn't reveal that he had a criminal past. It cost Rascon his life. On July 27, 2012, Rascon, 47, was on a boat piloted by Craig Lightner, as both searched the kelp off Catalina Island for the blue-banded goby fish. Rascon, 47, using unfamiliar and unsafe scuba gear, got caught in the kelp and died.

Last month, more than two years after the incident, Lightner was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter in Rascon's death. The Los Angeles District Attorney's office and sheriff's department assembled a body of evidence to show it was no simple accident. They say that while Lightner had the chance to help Rascon out, he called the Coast Guard instead and stayed put. When Baywatch arrived, the rescuers had to summon him three times before he got off his cellphone. Also, Rascon's family says, Lightner never told Mark that it was illegal to fish around Catalina Island for the goby, popular in aquariums. There were a lot of things that Craig Lightner didn't do that led to Mark's death," says L.A. County Sheriff's Sgt. Dave Carver. "He kind of set Mark up for failure."

Several months prior, Rascon met an engaging, friendly Lightner on a fishing trip in Mexico. Lightner invited him to go fishing for the goby, and would pay him $3.50 per fish. Rascon's family said he did not know that Lightner had pleaded guilty to smuggling tropical fish into the U.S. six years before. Also, the boat they used was more fitted for the clear waters of the Caribbean than the kelp-covered sea off Catalina Island.

Prosecutors say that Lightner supplied unsafe air hoses and regulators for use during the dive, and failed to show Rascon how to properly use the gear. Officials speculate that kelp snarled around Rascon's regulator. When the Coast Guard arrived, they found Rascon dead at 80 feet. His death was ruled as drowning due to an embolism. Carver says Lightner's story of what happened changed from interview to interview. Maybe most significantly, the investigation showed that a previous employee had warned Lightner that his equipment and his failure to give proper training would kill someone someday.

The sad story had more than one prelude: When Lightner was convicted in 2006 of smuggling Mexican immigrants and rare angelfish into the United States, he was penitent. "I'm sorry for my actions that have brought me to this court," he said at the time. "This situation has truly taught me a lesson, and I will never commit a crime again." Mark Rascon paid the price when Craig Lightner didn't keep his word.

- - Scott Herhold, San Jose Mercury News

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