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Family of Corey Felty, injured in leap from balcony to pool in 2007, sues owners of party house

By all accounts, 18-year-old Corey Felty was drunk the night in 2007 when he tried to jump from a balcony into a swimming pool, cracking his head on the ground.

A recent lawsuit says the homeowners should pay up for Felty's brain injury and other damages if a court finds they were responsible for providing the teen with alcohol.

It was just after midnight on the morning of July 14, 2007. Felty had stopped by a house party of teenagers in Palm Harbor.

Half a dozen people or so jumped from the balcony to the pool over the course of the night. Felty jumped, too, cannonball style. But instead of hitting the water, he smacked his head on the concrete patio and rolled into the pool unconscious.

A helicopter flew Felty to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg with serious brain injuries. Almost two years later, he is still suffering from the trauma.

He spent 34 days in a coma. After that, he had to relearn how to sit up and how to walk. Ginny Felty, Corey's mother, said her son is still afflicted by uncontrollable twitches and mood swings.

Last month, she filed suit in Pinellas Circuit Court against homeowners Yolanda and Zoran Trlin, and their son, Justin Finnerty, who was hosting the party.

The Felty's attorney Tommy Roebig called it a "straightforward" case, but the Trlin family disagrees. They say Felty was drunk when he showed up uninvited at the party.

"It was very unfortunate and I feel awful about it," said Yolanda Trlin. "I really feel that we are not responsible, nobody in my family is."

Attorney Tom Carey, who is not connected to the case, said there is basically no tolerance for providing alcohol to minors and in light of that, "it wouldn't matter much" whether Felty was intoxicated before drinking at the party.

While there are disputes about what happened earlier in the night, everyone agrees that Justin Finnerty, now 20, threw a party at 196 Shore Drive in Palm Harbor that night, at a house his parents were rehabbing and hoping to sell. He was arrested on misdemeanor charges of underage possession of alcohol and hosting an open house party.

The lawsuit says that 50 people were present at various times in the house. In an interview with the St. Petersburg Times, Finnerty said it was closer to 20.

Yolanda and Zoran Trlin were in Croatia visiting family when the party took place and claim not to have known about it.

The underage crowd was drinking beer and liquor. An incident report from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said there were beer cans strewn throughout the yard. A keg and bottles of vodka were in the game room. On the second floor, deputies found whiskey and more vodka.

Authorities had been out to the house in May after getting calls from neighbors about a similar party. The deputy's report said it was being used as a "rave" club for juveniles.

That night in July, however, Felty was obviously intoxicated, according to the court filing. The lawsuit said he "acted in a manner consistent with his underage status and inebriation" when he jumped. The suit cites the so-called "Dram Shop Act," which holds that someone who knowingly furnishes alcohol to an underage drinker may be liable for any damage or injury that underage person causes.

Finnerty tells a different story. He said he invited about 10 people over for a small party. Other people started coming on their own, uninvited. At one point, a friend asked whether Felty could come over. Finnerty said no, but Felty showed up anyway.

Felty and a few of his friends asked if anyone had ever jumped from the balcony into the pool. "I said 'No, and I didn't want them to be doing it either,' " Finnerty recalls. He said he thought that was sufficient, but it didn't stop Felty, a recent Countryside High graduate, and about six others from jumping.

Felty has come a long way from his injury, but he is still far from normal. After spending more than a month in a coma, he had to relearn basic functions. A program at Bayfront Medical Center even taught him how to drive again. He is now taking classes at St. Petersburg College and working at Papa John's pizza, where he worked before his accident.

"He's really, really working hard to get back to normal," Ginny Felty said of her son. "I never want to see another kid go through (this)."

Meanwhile, Finnerty and his family have moved to Illinois, where Finnerty is training to be an EMT firefighter. His family points out that an insurance company investigation in 2007 found they were not responsible for the injuries.

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

Family of Corey Felty, injured in leap from balcony to pool in 2007, sues owners of party house 03/17/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 8:05pm]

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