Authorities in the US are to extradite two Florida Keys dive-boat operators who were indicted for the death of a tourist who drowned when their vessel capsized off Key Largo in December 2011.
Christopher Jones, 50, and Alison Gracey, 47, both British nationals, are facing charges of involuntary manslaughter and making a false statement to authorities, according to a Miami federal indictment unsealed earlier this week.
The accident claimed the life of Aimee Rhoads, 36, a married mother from Washington state who had traveled to Florida to go scuba diving. Her husband, Pat Rhoads, started a blog to honor his wife. After learning of the arrests, he wrote that he “never expected this day to come.”
“No matter how much time they do, it won’t be enough to make up for Aimee’s loss. But I don’t plan to dwell on that,” he wrote. “While I do hope for justice, that is part of their life’s path, not mine. Whether or not they go to jail impacts them, not me.”
Jones and Gracey were arrested this month on the Caribbean island of St. Martin, and will be extradited to South Florida to stand trial in federal court.
In 2011, they ran a company called Key Largo Scuba Shack, operating a 25-foot charter boat called “Get Wet.” The boat had just left Molasses Reef off Key Largo when it started to take on water, trapping customers in the forward cabin, authorities said. According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the two operated the boat in an “unlawful and grossly reckless manner,” then lied about the boat’s ownership when questioned by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Another tourist, Amit Rampurkarl, of New York, was trapped inside the cabin and and had to be transported to a hospital in critical condition.
The other six people aboard the boat, including the captain and one crew member, all survived with no major injuries.
The tragedy happened not long after the divers completed their first of two planned dives at Molasses Reef, a popular spot about 30 feet deep and a few miles offshore of Key Largo in the Atlantic Ocean.
The boat had just left one mooring spot and was en route to a second dive location on the large reef when it began taking on water. Witnesses estimated it sank in “about two minutes.”
The couple left the Keys for the Bahamas following the accident. Federal authorities indicted Jones and Gracey in 2013, but had been unable to locate them. According to the St. Martin news, the couple had been living on the Dutch side of the island since earlier this year.