Suit filed in fa­tal Thun­der on the Nar­rows crash

Record Observer - - News - By AN­GELA PRICE bay­times@kibay­times.com

STEVENSVILLE — A fed­eral law­suit was filed Thurs­day, Aug. 25, seek­ing dam­ages in the 2015 Thun­der on the Nar­rows crash that killed 7-year-old Ju­lianne Rosela of Ch­ester. The suit was filed by 14 spec­ta­tors and Ju­lianne’s es­tate. The Coast Guard in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the crash is not yet com­plete.

The crash oc­curred at 4:45 p.m. June 28, 2015, dur­ing warmup laps for a race in the Grand Na­tional Hy­droplane di­vi­sion. The GNH boats were the largest boats in the com­pe­ti­tion with a min­i­mum length of 20 feet and a 468-cu­bic-inch en­gine ca­pa­ble of reach­ing speeds of 145 mph.

The col­li­sion oc­curred near the be­gin­ning of Turn 1 of the oval race course on Hogg Bay, when GNH-12 This is Heaven, driven by Philip J. Mitchell, left the course and struck part of the spec­ta­tor fleet, ac­cord­ing to Cmdr. Michael Keane, speak­ing at a press con­fer­ence at Kent Is­land Yacht Club fol­low­ing the crash. He noted that in its 25 years of rac­ing, Thun­der on the Nar­rows had a very safe his­tory.

Ju­lianne and Jen­nifer Brown­ing of Ch­ester, who also was in­jured, were in an or­ange raft tied to the stern of the re­cre­ational boat Sea Mon­key, which was tied to a 21-foot Sea Ray boat, which was tied an­other boat, Let’s Hook Up, which was tied to the boat A Shore Thing, which was tied to an­other raft and to a smaller 16-foot boat, ac­cord­ing to the law­suit.

In ad­di­tion to Ju­lianne’s es­tate, her par­ents Car­rie Anne Rosela of Ch­ester and An­to­nio Ga­puz Rosela of Owings, and Brown­ing, the suit is brought in­di­vid­u­ally by Car­rie Rosela, Michele L. Thomas of Ch­ester, Ger­ald R. Maisel of Stevensville, Bertha Maisel of Stevensville, Al­li­son Oyler of Ch­ester, Ni­cholas Ro­manchick of Ch­ester, Sara Ashley Walder of Queen­stown, Joseph F. Walder Jr. of Queen­stown, Raymond Louis Stokes III of Centreville, Ju­lia David­son Bar­ton of Centreville, Ryan Michael Pri­bell of Stevensville and Mitchell Thomas of Ch­ester on be­half of him­self and his son. All were in­jured phys­i­cally and/or emo­tion­ally by the crash, and some suf­fered prop­erty dam­age, ac­cord­ing to Robert J. Weltchek of the Baltimore firm Weltchek, Mal­la­han & Weltchek, which rep­re­sents 11 of the plain­tiffs.

The suit, filed in U.S. Dis­trict Court for the Dis­trict of Mary­land, against event spon­sors the Amer­i­can Power Boat As­so­ci­a­tion and the Kent Nar­rows Rac­ing As­so­ci­a­tion, as well as the own­ers of GNH-12, al­leges bla­tant vi­o­la­tions of nu­mer­ous safety rules.

In a phone in­ter­view Thurs­day, Weltchek said the spec­ta­tor fleet was al­lowed too close to the course, that the boat in­volved should never have been al­lowed to race, that it had a known de­fect iden­ti­fied in 2014, and that the driver had never raced a Grand Na­tional be­fore and wasn’t qual­i­fied.

“There was a long list of things that went hor­ri­bly wrong. It was his first time in the boat. It his first time in a hy­droplane (Mitchell pre­vi­ously raced open cock­pit vin­tage boats). He never es­tab­lished him­self as a qual­i­fied racer,” Weltchek said.

“The plain­tiffs are all boat­ing peo­ple. They all love the wa­ter. They all love boat rac­ing. This is just about stu­pid­ity,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to the law­suit, APBA rules re­quire a dis­tance of 250 feet from the race course to the spec­ta­tor fleet, but the dis­tance at Thun­der on the Nar­rows was only a few feet from the outer edge of the course.

Ear­lier at­tempts to reach those in­volved were un­suc­cess­ful, Weltchek said. No one would re­turn his calls.

“They can ig­nore me and my phone calls, but they can’t ig­nore the law­suit,” he said.

He called the sit­u­a­tion “out­ra­geous. They never even said ‘sorry’ or any­thing.”

Weltchek said the case was filed in fed­eral court be­cause it in­volves mar­itime law, which typ­i­cally falls un­der fed­eral ju­ris­dic­tion. The plain­tiffs re­quested a jur y trial.

KNRA Pres­i­dent Wheeler Baker of Ch­ester said Thurs­day af­ter­noon was the first he had heard of the law­suit. He added the Coast Guard re­port wasn’t fin­ished yet.

KNRA serves as host and “ba­si­cally puts the race on,” he said, but APBA is the sanc­tion­ing body that over­sees and runs the event.

“There was an APBA of­fi­cial there that signed off on ev­ery­thing,” Baker said. He re­ferred fur­ther ques­tions to APBA.

The Thun­der on the Nar­rows hy­droplane races were can­celed this year af­ter APBA changed depth guide­lines and the Hogg Bay course no longer met the re­quire­ments.

The news­pa­per did not re­ceive a call back from the APBA lawyer by press time.

FACE­BOOK PHOTO

Ju­lianne Rosela of Ch­ester died when a boat left the race course dur­ing the 2015 Thun­der on the Nar­rows and crashed into the raft on which she was sit­ting.

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