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Civil suits settled in boat crash

The families of five youths killed or injured in a boating accident last year will get $1.6-million from insurance companies for both the chiropractor charged in the accident and the youth who was driving the other boat. "Both parties had exposure," said David McCreadie, who represented St. Petersburg chiropractor William LaTorre.

The civil suits stemmed from an accident May 27, 1989, in which LaTorre's 35-foot Cigarette boat collided with a 17-foot boat driven by Geoffery Nash. Four teen-agers were killed and one was injured in the accident, which occurred just north of the Indian Rocks Beach Bridge in the Intracoastal Waterway.

The criminal case against LaTorre is scheduled to go to trial Nov. 5. He is charged with four counts of manslaughter in the deaths of Nash, Richard Weeks, Todd Kuhn and Jan Christman. Jamie LeCher, a passenger in Nash's boat, survived the accident.

In June 1989 attorneys for LeCher and the families of the other youths filed suit against LaTorre, claiming that he was negligent in the accident.

Earlier this month Tampa lawyer Carl Nelson, representing Nash's insurance companies, and J. Emory Wood, representing LaTorre's insurance companies, reached the agreement with attorneys for the families.

The families of Weeks and Christman each were to receive $370,000 in the settlement, court records show. Those records also show that Jamie LeCher and Nash's family were to get $245,000. Kuhn's family would receive $370,000, Nelson confirmed.

Nelson said that LaTorre's underwrit-ers paid $900,000, while Nash's underwriters paid $700,000.

LaTorre's underwriters were Metropolitan Insurance Co. and State Farm Insurance, according to court records. Nash's underwriters were Cincinnati Insurance Co. and Allstate Insurance Co.

Plaintiffs in civil suits often wait until the end of criminal proceedings before settling. If the defendants are found guilty in criminal court, the plaintiffs generally have stronger civil cases because the conviction is admissible as evidence of negligence.

"Whenever you have a boating accident there's always the possibility of conduct on the part of the navigators of both vessels that might have contributed to the accident," Nelson said, explaining why Nash's underwriters settled. "Even if the litigation would have resulted in total exoneration of Geoffery Nash, the cost of litigating the case would have been tremendous."

Wood, who represented LaTorre's insurance companies, could not be reached for comment.

Barry Cohen, who represents LaTorre in the criminal case, said he was unsure why attorneys for Nash and LaTorre settled the civil suit before the trial.

"I guess they put their economic heads together and came up with a decision," he said. "I guess sometimes they need to cut their losses and go on to the next case. . . . You never know the sympathy factor."

Earlier this week Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer agreed to allow into court evidence showing that Nash had a small amount of alcohol and marijuana in his blood. Nash had a blood-alcohol level of 0.02 percent, according to court records. In Florida drivers with a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 are presumed to be impaired. Blood tests also showed that Nash had a minute amount of marijuana in his blood.

Prosecutors sought to bar the evidence, arguing that it would have been inflammatory and that the alcohol and marijuana in Nash's blood would have had no effect on his ability to handle the boat.

Tests showed no trace of alcohol or drugs in LaTorre's blood.

_ Staff writer Teresa Burney contributed to this report.