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Parents of St. Pete High girl killed in boating crash file lawsuit

The boat, a 22-foot Hydra-Sports vessel with a 250-horsepower motor, is shown after striking the jetty the night of Oct. 2.

Special to the Times

The boat, a 22-foot Hydra-Sports vessel with a 250-horsepower motor, is shown after striking the jetty the night of Oct. 2.

ST. PETERSBURG — The parents of a St. Petersburg High School senior killed last month when a boat slammed into a downtown jetty have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against two other teens who were aboard, one of the teens' parents and a St. Petersburg liquor store.

Jill and Jeff Davison of St. Petersburg say their daughter, Paige Alyssa Davison, a member of the school's swim team, died after a series of alcohol-fueled events led to the crash.

Davison, 17, was one of five teens onboard at the time of the Oct. 2 crash, in which the boat slammed into the jetty near Albert Whitted Airport after an evening shark fishing trip.

The suit, filed Friday, says David L. West and Trey Sorensen, the only two boys on the boat that night, were intoxicated and knowingly driving a boat that had a broken GPS.

Authorities have said the boat, a 22-foot Hydra-Sports center console runabout with a 250 horsepower outboard motor, was traveling at a high rate of speed and that alcohol may have been a factor in the accident. No criminal charges have been filed, but the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is still investigating.

The suit says West and Sorenson, both 18, got permission to take the boat by West's parents, who also are named in the suit.

The Davisons also are suing a drive-through liquor store and its owner, who they claim sold alcohol to the teens that day.

The lawsuit comes just six weeks after the accident and before the FWC has finished its official investigation. It also lays out a scenario of what happened the day Davison died, details that up to this point haven't been released.

The Davison family, as well as their attorney, declined comment.

• ••

West and Sorensen began getting ready for the fishing trip at about 4 p.m. that day, the lawsuit says. Both boys had operated the boat in the past, and had permission from West's parents to take it that day.

In preparation, the suit says, the boys tried to fix the vessel's global positioning system, which had been inoperable for some time. A Harborage Marina employee even tried to help, but told the boys they'd need a repairman.

Instead, the suit says, the boys left and bought a bottle of Sailor Jerry, a 92 proof rum. After drinking the liquor, the suit says, the boys drove to pick up Davison and two other girls, Kelsey Bedinghaus and Kelli Delange.

The teens' next stop was the Quick Thru Mini Mart at 4025 4th St, N, a store the suit alleges "is known throughout the community as willing to sell beer and other alcoholic beverages to minors."

No one checked the teens' identification, the suit said, and the group drove away with an unknown quantity of beer.

As the fishing trip got under way, West and Sorensen, now intoxicated, took turns operating the boat.

Although the boat belonged to West's family, the complaint says, Sorensen was expected to be the designated captain that day, since he was the most experienced boater and most familiar with the waters where they were fishing.

Jill Davison had been assured before the trip that Sorensen was properly licensed and experienced in operating the boat at night, the suit says.

In fact, officials have said, neither Sorensen nor West had a boating safety education card, required for anyone under 21 who is operating a vessel with 10 horsepower or more.

Things went wrong, the suit says, when Sorensen passed out. The teens became so concerned about how drunk their friend was that they called 911.

But they needed to get home. And without a captain, the suit states, West took the wheel, guiding the boat back into the marina. It was 11:30 p.m.

"None of the minor female passengers had any significant boating experience to appreciate or understand the catastrophic, inherent danger of returning to the marina at a high rate of speed in total darkness without the proper electronics on board, and the designated captain unconscious on the deck of the Hydra-Sports boat," the lawsuit says.

Davison died because of the impact of the crash, the suit says. The other teens also were injured, but survived.

•• •

Neither Sorensen or the Wests could be reached for comment Friday. Rajesh Patel, owner of the convenience store, was served with the lawsuit Friday evening.

"We don't give out anything without I.D.'s," he said. "I always check the I.D.'s."

FWC spokesman Gary Morse, reached by phone Friday night, said he knows nothing about the civil case, and that officials aren't done with their investigation.

"It is ongoing," he said. "We could not comment on the civil case anyway."

Clearwater criminal attorney Denis de Vlaming, whose firm has been retained by West, also said he hadn't known about the civil complaint.

When asked if he believed criminal charges would be filed in the case, de Vlaming said: "I think it's really going to be based on the toxicology reports. The state attorney has given notice that they want the medical records."

In response, de Vlaming's firm on Monday filed a motion objecting to authorities getting those records. De Vlaming said they want to find out what grounds the state has for wanting West's records, which he said are protected under privacy laws.

"The whole thing was a tragedy," de Vlaming said.

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8643.

Parents of St. Pete High girl killed in boating crash file lawsuit 11/13/09 [Last modified: Friday, November 13, 2009 11:36pm]
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