Miami, Florida – After being on the loose for more than a decade, the owners of a now defunct Key Largo, Florida dive shop who kept their vessel in such poor condition that it capsized and sank, killing one person, appeared in federal court. in South Florida and pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

Christopher Jones, 57, and Alison Gracey, 54, owned The Key Largo Scuba Shack, LLC, a company that operated scuba diving trips in the Florida Keys from approximately June 2010 through December 2011. Their primary charter boat was a 24.8-foot vessel named the M/V getting wet. On December 18, 2011, the M/V Getting wet left the dock for a diving trip with two crew and six passengers. During the ship’s first dive stop, the sea conditions changed from calm to rough and the boat operator realized that the bilge pump had failed. When the divers re-boarded the boat after the dive, the vessel began to take on water, rolled heavily, capsized and rapidly sank approximately 30 feet from the ocean floor. During its descent, a 300-pound bench seat that was not properly attached to the deck of the ship came loose. Made of a buoyant material, the shoal shot up to the surface of the ocean, as the ship itself sank. The two large, heavy objects collided, pinning a passenger’s legs against the ship’s windshield. The passenger was trapped and drowned.

Once recovered, Coast Guard experts inspected the M/V getting wet and found serious shortcomings. None of the ship’s hold compartments – the engine spaces below the ship’s deck – were watertight. The aftmost hold space, called the galley, was covered by a deck plate with holes for 30 bolts, 22 of which were missing and eight were loose. The wood at the bottom of the 300-pound bench was rotten and the screws to attach it to the deck were too small. Below deck, holes that allowed water to flow between the various hold compartments compromised all bulkheads. A bilge pump had been incorrectly disassembled and reassembled.

Additionally, a criminal investigation into the diver’s death revealed that Jones and Gracey knew before the tragedy that the ship needed repairs. Jones and Gracey continued to operate the M/V getting wet despite the following events, all of which occurred before December 18, 2011:

  • Following inspections, the United States Coast Guard informed Jones and Gracey that the vessel needed repairs, including securing the engine bed center cover to the deck and making repairs below deck to ensure that the bulkhead areas were watertight.
  • Employees of the dive operation repeatedly informed Jones that the M/V Getting wet dangerously flooded. The deck plates were barely attached and the engine bed cover wobbled back and forth.
  • the M/V getting wet broke down several times and the boat’s equipment broke down, including the pumps intended to dewater the ship.
  • During a trip with Gracey on board as dive master, the M/V getting wet almost sank.
  • In the two months before the sinking, a marine rescuer towed the M/V getting wet down three times.

Shortly after the diver’s death, Jones and Gracey fled the United States and spent more than 10 years evading extradition whenever law enforcement located them. In 2021, they left France for Spain, where Spanish authorities took them into custody on the basis of an Interpol red notice. In January 2022, Jones and Gracey were extradited from Spain to the United States to face federal charges in the Southern District of Florida.

Sentencing is set for August 18 at 1:30 p.m. in the Key West federal courthouse before Judge James Lawrence King. Each defendant faces up to eight years in federal prison.

Juan Antonio Gonzalez, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Zinnia James, Special Agent in Charge of the Southeast Region, United States Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS), announced the guilty pleas. .

The US Coast Guard Investigative Service investigated the matter. The United States Department of Justice’s Bureau of International Affairs provided invaluable assistance in pursuing the extradition of the defendants. The US Marshal’s Service also assisted by transporting the defendants from Spain to Florida.

Former Assistant US Attorney Jaime Raich worked on the investigation and initially prosecuted the case, which Assistant US Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald is now handling.

For more details on the case, click on here to view the joint factual presentation.

Related court documents and information may be viewed on the District Court for the Southern District of Florida website at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or at http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov , under file number 12-cr-10013.

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