The captain of a vessel involved in a fatal parasailing accident outside Charlotte Amalie Harbor in 2011 pleaded guilty to negligence Monday in U.S. District Court on St. Thomas, and the corporate owner of the vessel pleaded no contest to negligence, according the the V.I. District U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Kyle Coleman, 33, pleaded guilty to negligently operating the tour boat "Turtle," causing the death of a passenger. CWS Tours, which owned the vessel, entered a plea in which it acknowledged negligence with respect to the vessel, and as a result someone’s life was destroyed.
According to the plea, Coleman was captain of the Turtle when it was conducting parasailing excursions just south of Water Island on Nov. 15, 2011, when passenger Bernice Kraftcheck was killed. Kraftcheck and her daughter, Danielle Haese,were hoisted into the air for the parasail ride as wind conditions were deteriorating. The strong winds and a weak towline caused the towline to break, separating the parasail from the vessel and dumping the women into the water.
The wind then propelled the parasail, with the women still attached, at a very high rate of speed, killing Kraftcheck and seriously injuring Haese.
“Parasail company owners and operators are entrusted with the safety and welfare of their passengers,” U.S. Attorney Ronald Sharpe said in a statement. “In this case, both the company and the captain violated that trust by failing to observe wind conditions, safely maintain all equipment, and adequately prepare for emergencies. We hope that the victims’ families will take some comfort from the fact that both the company and captain will be held responsible for their criminal negligence.”
Capt. Drew W. Pearson, U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Juan Commander, said the plea sends a signal to other parasail operators.
“While we will always keep the victims and their loved ones in our thoughts, the guilty pleas today provided needed accountability in a court of law," Pearson said. "All parasail operators should take notice, realizing the serious actions and outcomes the Coast Guard and our partners at the U. S. Attorney’s office will pursue, to ensure the safety of life at sea."
Coleman faces a maximum of one year incarceration and a $5,000 fine, plus restitution to the victims. CWS Tours faces a maximum penalty of five years’ probation and a $250,000 fine, plus restitution to the victims. CWS Tours also agreed to take part in at least two public service announcements with the Coast Guard promoting parasailing safety, and to cooperate with the Coast Guard in developing parasailing industry safety procedures.
Sentencing is set for Sept. 12.