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Second lawsuit filed against St. Petersburg over jetty near Albert Whitted

Michael Armour was headed to shore, rushing to get out of the afternoon storm.

He glanced down at the Global Positioning System and compass, and looked up to see the jetty just 30 yards beyond his bow.

He swerved hard to the left and pushed one of his two female passengers overboard for her own safety, the accident report says. But it was too late, his 1984 Mako smashed into the jetty.

He wasn't the first.

At least four similar crashes had already occurred at the same jetty near Albert Whitted Airport by the time Armour's boat hit it that rainy afternoon on Nov. 24, 2009.

A fatal crash nearly two months earlier killed 17-year-old Paige Alyssa Davison, resulting in calls by then-Gov. Charlie Crist to light the jetty and the family's wrongful death lawsuit against the city, two teenage males aboard the boat, one of the teens' parents and the Quick Thru, a Fourth Street N convenience store that allegedly sold the St. Petersburg High School students alcohol that night.

That jetty has since been destroyed, but Stacey Wicks, the 38-year-old passenger whom Armour pushed overboard, is now suing St. Petersburg as well.

Wicks claims the city should have done more to make the jetty visible after the earlier crashes.

In June, Wicks filed the lawsuit alleging the city and the boat's owner, Richard Conti, were negligent. She is claiming a litany of damages that include about $30,000 in medical fees, said her attorney, Ken Ward.

"I'm a licensed captain with the Coast Guard. I do know the area and something needed to be done," Ward said. "It's kind of a shame. I don't know if it was a funding issue or something that fell through the cracks, but something should have been done a long time ago."

According to the accident report filed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Wicks stated that she was "shook up" but not harmed after being pushed from the boat. Her fellow passenger, Jennifer Braddock, 46, was also unharmed, the report said.

Ward did not return requests for comment on the apparent contradiction between the accident report and the complaint.

"It'll obviously be an interesting question to ask her," said John Wolfe, the city's attorney. "But I'm not going to comment on it."

In the complaint, Wicks claims the city failed to maintain safe waterways and comply with the law — and neglected to give "adequate warning to mariners and recreational boaters of concealed perils."

Ward said Conti was responsible because he owned the boat, even though he wasn't operating it that day. Conti could not be reached for comment.

Excessive speed was listed as a factor in the crash. The accident report indicates that Armour, 53, who has a history with drugs, alcohol and driving with a suspended license, was traveling at 10 mph when he "cut the steering wheel hard to the left" and crashed into the jetty before coming to a halt by the seawall.

Armour showed no signs of impairment following a sobriety test, the report said.

"She was flying out anyway," Armour said of his decision to bump Wicks off the boat. "I just wanted to make sure she didn't land on top of a rock."

Armour declined to comment further. He told responders that he cut his legs on the jetty's rocks while retrieving Wicks, the accident report said.

Armour received one citation and two warnings after the accident for violations of navigational rules, the accident report states. He was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit because of a lack of assets, Ward said.

"He has no insurance," Ward said. "There's no way that he would ever be able to pay any judgment unless he gets lucky with his numbers on the Powerball."

Wicks declined to comment.

Armour, whose driver's license is currently suspended, was convicted in March 1991 and again in June of 2004 for driving under the influence in Hillsborough County, according to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. In December 2004, he received a 15-month prison sentence on concurrent charges, one for cocaine possession and two for felony traffic violations.

Ward said he tried to reach out to Conti and the city before filing the suit on June 14.

"Our only option was to file a lawsuit and perhaps get somebody's attention," he said.

News researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. C. Ryan Barber can be reached at rbarber@sptimes.com or (727)893-8505. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/cryanbarber

Second lawsuit filed against St. Petersburg over jetty near Albert Whitted 07/06/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 6, 2011 11:31pm]
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