The operator of the boat involved in a fatal parasailing accident in Pompano Beach Wednesday had a valid captain’s license, the U.S. Coast Guard confirmed Friday.
Casey Fuller, 28, received his license in April 2011, even though he had a criminal record from 2006 involving felony grand theft and forgery, public records show.
The U.S. Coast Guard, which certifies boat captains, was aware of his criminal past, but deemed that either enough time had elapsed since the crime or that it was not relevant to whether he was qualified to operate a commercial boat, records show.
According to the Broward Sheriff’s Office, Fuller was arrested on charges that he submitted a $3,700 bad check to a Grab-and-Go store in Lighthouse Point in May 2006. The check was written on an account named “Hobo’s Fish Joint.” He was placed on probation and ordered to serve community service as a result of the case, but was arrested two years later on a probation violation, records show.
Fuller captains the 28-foot parasail boat owned by the excursion company Waveblast Watersports. About 3 p.m. Wednesday, Kathleen and Stephen Miskell were hoisted into the air in tandem, about 200 feet in the air, when Kathleen’s harness failed. She plummeted into the ocean, as her husband, who remained attached to the bar, watched helplessly. She was found face down in the water and was later pronounced dead at the hospital.
Fuller did not return phone calls left on his voice mail by The Miami Herald. The other crew member on the boat, Jeff Zabadal, 20, answered his door in Pompano Beach Friday, but slammed it shut on a Miami Herald reporter.
Waveblast’s owner, Zachary Chandler, has not returned phone calls to The Herald and did not answer at his beach front Pompano Beach condo, nor has his attorney, Donna Albert.
Meanwhile Friday, several agencies, including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Coast Guard, continued their probe into the accident. The National Transportation Safety Board announced it would send an agent to South Florida to join the investigation.
FWC said Friday the investigation would be “lengthy.”
“The FWC is currently investigating every aspect of this case including the equipment that was used, the harness, the rope, the parachute and any other equipment we feel is necessary in order to paint a clearer picture of what occurred,” said FWC spokesman Jorge Pino.
Mark McCulloh, chairman of the Parasail Safety Council, said photographs and video of the accident scene seem to show that the harness, which is hooked to the tow bar, sheered. While it’s still too early to say for sure what happened, he said, it’s clear that either the equipment was faulty or the operator failed to attach it properly.
McCulloh, who has been associated with parasailing for over 40 years, said the laws have changed about whether someone can be certified as a boat captain if they had committed a felony. However, he said, consumers should be able to obtain information about boat captains.
As of now, the records are not easily attainable, and criminal records are also not accessible unless you know a boat operator’s full name, birth date and social security number.
Fuller’s troubles with the law in the past should have no bearing on the fatal accident, according to Ira Leesfield, a Miami lawyer who handles parasailing cases.