In the hours following the Design dive boat fire, Santa Barbara held his breath while waiting to know the fate of the 34 people who had gone to bed for the night under the bridges on September 1, 2019, off the island of Santa Cruz. It soon became apparent that they were all horribly dead after a massive fire broke out over their heads on the main deck, and it wasn’t until September 11 that the last body was found, that of Bérénice Felipe, whose mother is among the family members of all the victims who have filed a new complaint against the American Coast Guard.
According to the new lawsuit, brought by 32 survivors of the 34 who died and an injured crew member, one person escaped through the small hatch just above his bunk, Berenice Felipe, 16, who was traveling from diving to celebrate her best friend’s 17th birthday. Her friend, Tia Salika, died with her mother and father, Diana Adamic and Steve Salika, on board the Design. The emergency hatch, 22 inches from the side and emerging aft of the salon rather than an outside deck, is among the “glaring deficiencies” listed in the civil lawsuit which alleges Coast Guard inspections neglected them. violations on the boat.
The lawsuit, filed Sept. 1 in the Federal Central District Court, claims that the Coast Guard, particularly its Maritime Safety Detachment in Santa Barbara, had inspected the Design for many years, including its electrical systems, fire systems and passenger escape hatches; the last in 2014 resulted in full inspection certification. Despite inspectors’ familiarity with boat and navy inspection circulars from 2013 to warn of fires aboard the ship due to power strips and rechargeable devices, the lawsuit claims the Coast Guard has cleared the vessel for operation. despite inadequate electrical, fire and evacuation systems. After the fire, inspectors from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) examined the Designsister ship of, the Vision, which was similar in layout and construction, to understand the systems on board the Design, which had sunk after burning to the waterline. The lawsuit draws on similar parallels to make its claims.
Among the direct violations of the Code of Federal Regulations claimed was the use of house wiring in certain areas of the dormitory, instead of premium UL boat and marine wiring. Further, the lawsuit says the Coast Guard should have known that the shipowners – Truth Aquatics and Glen and Dana Fritzler – had added “undocumented and poorly designed” electrical outlets for battery charging. The suit claims the ship’s electrical system was so stressed that the oxygen system for filling the dive tanks and the kitchen stove could not operate at the same time.
Two other local incidents of battery fires are alleged in the lawsuit. One occurred aboard the Condor Express, a popular whale watching and sightseeing boat that shares the Sea Landing dock in Santa Barbara Harbor with boats from Truth Aquatics; the battery charging station of the CondorThe portable marine radio caught fire in the late afternoon of March 9, 2013. The court record alleges that the second incident was reported to Truth Aquatics: In October 2018, a passenger who was a firefighter outside of his duties had seen a fire in a “charging station plugged into a power strip sitting among paperbacks atop a shelf” in the Vision salon and, after suffocating it, reported the fire to the ship’s captain, who reported it to his employers. The fire on board the Design allegedly started in a similar location, although the NTSB’s final investigative report did not find lithium batteries to be the cause, in part because it was unable to examine evidence held by the FBI . This criminal investigation resulted in charges of manslaughter of a sailor against the Design, Jerry Boylan, who pleaded not guilty in February.
The story reconstructed in the retrial refers to two crew members who were awoken in their bunks on the upper deck by loud noises and a cry of distress. Second cook Michael Kohls ran up the stairs to the main deck and was greeted by flames. According to the complaint, “other than passenger Berenice Felipe – whom Kohls had apparently heard screaming as she opened the exit directly above her bunk and fled overboard through the fire – everyone on board DESIGNER was trapped downstairs in the bunk room where they died from the combined effects of fire and asphyxiation after attempting to fight the fire with the extinguisher in the cabin.
According to coroner’s reports, Felipe’s was the last body found. After spending 11 days in the ocean, it was breaking down quickly. Toxicology reports have indicated a carbon monoxide level of less than 10 percent; humans normally have about 2 percent CO in their blood. Among all but three of the victims in the coroner’s initial reports, carbon monoxide levels were 39 to 75 percent, although the coroner cited smoke inhalation as the cause of death for all. This included Berenice Felipe and Diana Adamic, who also had a CO level of 10; there was too little of a third victim left to perform blood chemistry tests. No autopsy was performed for the victims.
Like the enormity of the Design As disaster struck the mainland, the coroner’s determination that the victims had died of asphyxiation and that the severe burn damage had occurred after death may have been a comforting whisper to some. However, plaintiffs’ attorneys alleged in their second cause of action extreme fear and anguish among the victims, several of whom were found dressed in outerwear and wearing shoes or boots. This section of the lawsuit seeks damages for suffering and suffering before death, or “survival damages” both pecuniary and non-pecuniary, for the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit, filed two years after the fire, is brought against the United States of America as the party responsible for the Coast Guard. The US has not yet had time to react.