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August 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 30, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Fugitive Dive Operators Found, Then Charged with Manslaughter

from the August, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Two Brits who ran the Key Largo Scuba Shack in the Florida Keys, then disappeared in 2011 after being accused of the death of an American diver, were found last month and now face extradition back to the U.S. Christopher Jones, 50, and Alison Gracey, 47, have been charged with involuntary manslaughter for the death of Aimee Rhoads, a diver on vacation from Washington State, who drowned when their boat Get Wet capsized off Molasses Key in December 2011 (the couple were in the Bahamas at the time, preparing to open the Bimini Scuba Shack). The boat began to take on water shortly after leaving Molasses reef, off Key Largo. Rhoads, 36, was trapped in the forward cabin. Get Wet reportedly sank in two minutes. Five other divers, along with the captain and a crew member, survived.

Jones and Gracey lied about the boat's ownership when questioned by the Coast Guard, then disappeared. What they were hiding: The Get Wet had failed a Coast Guard passenger vessel inspection, so the owners dropped the larger license that allowed them to carry more than six passengers, and opted instead for "a sixpack license," which let them skip the required boat repairs and operate without the safety inspection as long they took six divers or less. Scuba Shack Key Largo closed soon after, and the Bimini Scuba Shack apparently never opened.

Jones and Gracey weren't discovered until June 5, when they were arrested on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten. The two will stand trial in South Florida's federal court for involuntary manslaughter. The US attorney's indictment states, "The alleged unlawful and careless manner in which the defendants operated the boat caused the death of a scuba diver. Additionally . . . the defendants knowingly and willingly made a false statement to the U.S. Coast Guard about the boat's ownership." If convicted, Jones faces a maximum sentence of 10 years, and Gracey a maximum of eight years.

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