Deadly Parasailing Accident Results in Manslaughter Charges
October 4, 2022 Don Pumphrey, Jr. Criminal Defense, News & Announcements Social Share
A boat captain has been arrested in relation to a parasailing accident where one woman died back in May. The captain is being charged with manslaughter, along with violating the commercial parasailing statute in Florida.
We will provide details from the case along with information on the commercial parasailing statute and manslaughter charges in Florida.
What was the Incident?
On May 30th, 2022, Captain Daniel Couch took out his commercial parasailing vessel “Airborne” with one other crew member and twelve passengers. Couch put the first three passengers into a parasail flight, which returned several minutes later without any incident.
The next three passengers were then set to go out on a parasail flight. The passengers included Sriakshith Alaparthi, Supraja Alaparthi, and Vishant Sadda. Around five minutes after the three passengers were in the air, the captain and crew member realized the winch was no longer able to bring them in due to the strong winds.
At 5:17 pm, Captain Couch cut the towline with his pocketknife, while the three passengers were still out on the parasail flight. Couch later claimed he cut the line due to “pegging” which is a phrase used to describe when a parasail turns into a sail in high winds and could drag the boat. Due to the line being cut, the three passengers fell from an unknown height and were dragged backward through the water from the inflated parasail.
Captain Couch sounded an airhorn, which is a designated signal for people on a parasail to pull a red strap connected to the “chute wrangler”—designed to assist parasailers who have had their lines cut. However, Couch realized that the chute wrangler was not being deployed.
The crew member attempted to use a boat hook to catch the parasail and deflate it, but it got pulled out of their hand, and they were unable to secure it. After that, the crew member used a life vest and jumped into the water to grab the chute wrangler manually, but it was unable to release.
The captain moved the vessel closer to the parasail to try and grab it with his bare hands but was unable to secure it. The parasail was too close to the vessel, which resulted in all three passengers getting dragged over the metal roll cage at the back of the boat.
The water continuously pulled the three passengers, dragging them backward until they collided with a concrete pillar on the Old Seven Mile Bridge. The impact caused Vishant Sadda to bend backward with his head underwater, and Supraja Alaparthi was submerged as well. Sriakshith Alaparthi was still upright, and all three still had their harnesses secured and hanging from the bridge. According to the arrest report, the three were begging Couch to move his boat under the bridge to help aid them, but he never did.
Another vessel titled A Good Samaritan saw what happened and came to offer the passengers assistance. Captain John Callion was able to cut all three victims from the harness and put them onto the boat. CPR was given to both Supraja Alaparthi and Vishant Sadda. The Marathon Fire Rescue met the injured passengers at a nearby restaurant where A Good Samaritan took them.
Supraja Alaparthi was pronounced dead on the scene. Vishant Sadda was taken to local hospital Baptist Health Fishermen’s Community Hospital and was later transferred to Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami. Sriakshith Alaparthi was also taken to Fishermen’s Hospital for minor injuries.
The weather was one of the key factors in the incident. Images on the arrest report show black, ominous clouds over the water prior to the incident. The weather forecast for the day described that it was prohibited conditions for parasailing, but Couch proceeded to take passengers out anyways.
Couch also told authorities he tried to dial 911 but that his phone was not working. When they checked his cell phone records, it confirmed that there were no outgoing calls. However, if Couch had properly turned his VHF on, the U.S. Coast Guard could have been called for assistance. Couch was also unable to show proof of his USCG Captain’s license that is required to be carried and shown for inspection on any vessel engaging in commercial parasailing.
The arrest warrant concludes that Couch’s “cumulative and negligent actions on the day of the incident resulted in the death of Supraja Alaparthi, injuries to her son Sriakshith Alaparthi, and severe injuries to Vishant Sadda…The indifference to the consequences of his decisions and actions resulted in the death and serious injuries to these parasailers.”
FWC Regional Commander Major Alberto Maza gave a comment regarding the incident:
“There is no excuse for the negligence and disregard for public safety that was shown in this case. My prayers go out to the families of those involved in this terrible accident. Our investigators conducted a thorough investigation, and the charges today hold those responsible for this tragedy accountable.”
Couch has since been arrested, months after the incident. The defendant is facing one count of manslaughter, along with five counts of violating commercial parasailing statutes. The victim’s family has already filed a lawsuit against the operator of the parasail.
Commercial Parasailing Violations
According to the arrest warrant, Couch violated the state statute for Commercial Parasailing, codified under Florida Statute section 327.375. The statute contains in pertinent part the following information:
- The operation of a vessel engaged in commercial parasailing shall ensure that the provisions of this section and 327.37 are met.
- The operation of a vessel engaged in commercial parasailing must have a current and valid license issued by the United States Coast Guard authorizing the operator to carry passengers for hire. The license must be appropriate for the number of passengers carried and the displacement of the vessel. The license must be carried on the vessel and be available for inspection while engaging in commercial parasailing activities.
- A vessel engaged in commercial parasailing must be equipped with a functional VHF marine transceiver and a separate electronic device capable of providing access to National Weather Service forecasts and current weather conditions.
(5)(a) Commercial parasailing is prohibited if the current observed wind conditions in the area of operation include a sustained wind speed of more than 20 miles per hour; if wind gusts are 15 miles per hour higher than the sustained wind speed; if the winds speed during gusts exceeds 25 miles per hour; if rain or heavy fog results in reduced visibility of less than 0.5 mile; or if a known lightning storm comes within 7 miles of the parasailing area.
(5)(b) The operator of the vessel engaged in commercial parasailing shall use all available means to determine prevailing and forecasted weather conditions and record this information in a weather log each time passengers are to be taken out on the water. Each weather log must be available for inspection at all times in the operator’s place of business.
To put it simply, the operator of the vessel must maintain a valid boating license that authorizes carrying passengers for hire that is issued by the U.S. Coast Guard to engage in commercial parasailing, the vessel must be equipped with a VHF marine transceiver and a separate electronic device that can access the National Weather Service forecasts and the current weather conditions. If the wind speeds reach 20 miles per hour or if wind gusts exceed 15 miles per hour the sustained wind speed, if there is rain or heavy fogs, or if there is a known lightning storm within 7 miles of the area, then parasailing is prohibited.
Any violations of the above-mentioned sections of the statute can result in a person being punished with a second-degree misdemeanor. The penalties for a second-degree misdemeanor include up to a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail.
Manslaughter Charges in Florida
Florida Statute section 782.07 defines manslaughter as the killing of another human being by the act, procurement, or culpable negligence of another. This means that the death was caused due to the negligent actions of another person. In such cases, the death will not be considered an excusable homicide, as the law considers the defendant to be guilty of manslaughter. Manslaughter is considered a second-degree felony. Penalties for a second-degree felony include up to a $10,000 fine and up to fifteen years in prison.
If the victim meets certain characteristics such as being an elderly person, child, police officer, firefighter, emergency medical technician, paramedic, or a disabled adult, then the accused can be charged with aggravated manslaughter. Aggravated manslaughter is considered a first-degree felony in the state of Florida. The penalties for a first-degree felony include up to a $10,000 fine and up to 30 years in prison.
To find out more about violent crimes in Florida, read our informative page here.
Defenses to Murder, Homicide, and Manslaughter
Because the accused is being charged with negligently causing the death of another, if they can show that they acted lawfully by doing what a similar reasonable person would have done in their situation, the excusable homicide defense can eliminate or mitigate the criminal charges against the defendant.
Florida Statutes Section 782.03 provides that under the following three circumstances a defendant can plea the defense of excusable homicide:
- When the killing is committed by accident and misfortune while doing any lawful act by lawful means with usual ordinary caution and without any unlawful intent.
- When the killing occurs by accident and misfortune in the heat of passion, upon any sudden and sufficient provocation by the deceased.
- When the killing is committed by accident and misfortune resulting from sudden combat, without using any weapon that could be considered dangerous and as long as the killing is done in a manner that could not be considered cruel or unusual.
Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida
If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime, it is in your best interest to seek out a skilled Florida criminal defense attorney in your area. It can be intimidating to navigate the legal world on your own, but luckily with Pumphrey Law Firm on your side you won’t have to. Our team is filled with experienced attorneys who are willing to stand in your corner and fight for your freedom. Call us today for a free consultation at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website.
Written by Karissa Key