Lock­heed Martin faces odd fed­eral case

Com­pany sued by rel­a­tive of de­ceased em­ployee over ben­e­fits

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Cha­beli Her­rera

The re­la­tion­ship ended as quickly as it started: They were to­gether by Valen­tine’s Day and mar­ried the next month. By July, she was dead.

Now, the cause of the Co­coa woman’s sui­cide and her hus­band’s al­leged role in it are all at the heart of an un­usual fed­eral law­suit against de­fense and aerospace com­pany Lock­heed Martin — the woman’s em­ployer — and in­sur­ance com­pa­nies Voya and Pru­den­tial Fi­nan­cial brought forth by her brother.

The brother, Mark Stephens, al­leges the woman’s hus­band co­erced her to re­move Stephens as a ben­e­fi­ciary from her life in­sur­ance and sav­ings plans with Voya, Pru­den­tial and Lock­heed, where she worked as a com­puter tech­ni­cian at the com­pany’s of­fices in Brevard County.

Be­tween her Pru­den­tial and Lock­heed in­sur­ances, she had at least $254,000 to her name.

Shortly af­ter the ben­e­fi­ciary change, she was dead, and Stephens claims the woman’s hus­band was at least par­tially re­spon­si­ble.

The tale starts in Fe­bru­ary 2018, when Donna Marie DeKarski met Christo­pher Rossi, 36, on the dat­ing app Tin­der. They were a match by Feb. 13 and mar­ried on March 25.

But ac­cord­ing to a com­plaint filed in Oc­to­ber in dis­trict court in Or­lando, Stephens says the mar­riage wasn’t le­git­i­mate be­cause he be­lieved DeKarski, 44, was men­tally in­ca­pac­i­tated or un­der the in­flu­ence of drugs or al­co­hol at the time of the wed­ding. He claims his sis­ter suf­fered from se­vere bipo­lar dis­or­der, de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety and had sui­ci­dal ten­den­cies that were not prop­erly med­i­cated.

And, he says in the law­suit, Rossi knew that.

As the mar­riage pro­gressed, Stephens claims Rossi “sys­tem­at­i­cally pres­sured and ma­nip­u­lated [DeKarski] to give him money, buy him a car, add him to her credit card ac­counts, add him to her in­sur­ance cov­er­age, and name him as her ben­e­fi­ciary on all of her ben­e­fi­ciary des­ig­nated as­sets.”

That means Stephens was re­moved as the ben­e­fi­ciary from her

group life in­sur­ance plan, ac­ci­den­tal death and dis­mem­ber­ment in­sur­ance, and her sav­ings plan.

Then, things took a dark turn on the night of July 21. Af­ter a day of heavy drink­ing, the suit says, DeKarski got into an ar­gu­ment with Rossi at their home in Co­coa.

The in­ci­dent es­ca­lated un­til Dekarski in­gested 12 bot­tles of pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tion and two bot­tles of over-the-counter med­i­ca­tion.

But, ac­cord­ing to the suit, Rossi didn’t call for an am­bu­lance. In­stead, he al­legedly left her ly­ing un­con­scious on her bed and fell asleep on the sofa in the liv­ing room.

The next day, ac­cord­ing to the suit, Rossi awoke to the sound of DeKarski’s la­bored breath­ing. He went to Wal­mart, and then met a friend at a bar at about 11 a.m., be­fore re­turn­ing home, the suit claims.

By then, DeKarski was un­con­scious. A friend of Rossi’s, who he thought was a li­censed prac­ti­cal nurse, tried CPR on the woman to no avail, ac­cord­ing to the suit. She was later taken to the hos­pi­tal and pro­nounced dead at 3:23 p.m.

The Brevard County Sher­iff’s of­fice launched a homi­cide in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the death, which cul­mi­nated in it be­ing ruled a sui­cide, said sher­iff’s of­fice spokesman Tod Goodyear. An au­topsy re­port con­firms DeKarsi had a his­tory of anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion and pre­scrip­tion abuse and also said sui­cide was the cause of death.

She was re­mem­bered on sev­eral obit­u­ary web­sites as a “won­der­ful per­son.” For­mer co­worker Jackie Petit wrote, “I worked with Donna on a pre­vi­ous con­tract at the Cape, and re­mem­ber her smil­ing face and her al­ways help­ful/can do at­ti­tude. She truly was a joy to be around.”

At­tempts by the Or­lando Sen­tinel to con­tact Rossi were un­suc­cess­ful. Lock­Lock­heed heed Martin did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

Af­ter his sis­ter’s death, Stephens tried to as­sert a claim to Lock­heed, Pru­den­tial and Voya for death ben­e­fits un­der DeKarski’s in­sur­ance, but all three were re­jected.

He is now seek­ing for the court to set­tle the dis­pute by in­val­i­dat­ing Rossi as a ben­e­fi­ciary.

At­tor­ney Wil­liam Perry, who is rep­re­sent­ing Stephens and spe­cial­izes in in­sur­ance cases, said most life in­sur­ances don’t let you col­lect as a ben­e­fi­ciary if you were some­how re­spon­si­ble for the death.

That’s what he hopes to prove with Rossi.

“They met on­line, she had never been mar­ried, she was a lit­tle older, they got mar­ried re­ally fast, it was a whirl­wind,” Perry said. “She had mental is­sues, and we think that he seized on those.”

DeKarski Rossi

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