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Father sues over teen's fatal water crash

Published Sep. 26, 2005

The 18-year-old was killed when his water scooter collided with a friend's.

The father of a Dunedin High School student killed in a 1998 collision of two water scooters is suing the owner and operator of the other scooter.

Justin Stophel, 18, died almost immediately Aug. 16, 1998, after his Waverunner collided with another water scooter while jumping boat wakes in Hurricane Pass off Honeymoon Island.

Stophel and Steve Carlesimo, 18, were headed east into Hurricane Pass from the Gulf of Mexico, following a 28-foot powerboat driven by Carlesimo's 23-year-old brother, Mark. The two scooters collided near the second marker.

Stophel's father, Jerry, filed suit Friday in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, accusing Steve Carlesimo of negligently operating his scooter and his brother of driving the boat in an "erratic and unpredictable manner at an unsafe speed in an effort to create wakes for his brother."

The scooters and boat are owned by Carlesimo's father, Onorio Carlesimo, or his company, Suncoast Car and Equipment Inc.

According to the suit, the father let his older son drive the 1993 Sea Ray Sundancer boat when he should have known Mark Carlesimo would operate the boat recklessly and carelessly.

The Stophels declined to comment Monday. The Carlesimos could not be reached.

Stophel, who had decided to join the Air Force after graduation, was not new to water scooters. Jerry Stophel had said previously that his son had been riding the Waverunner during the summer.

Florida's waterways remain among the deadliest in the country, with 70 people killed in recreational boating accidents in 1998. Pinellas waterways had four deaths and 74 accidents in 1998, compared with one death and 71 accidents the year before.