Deondra Scott v. Allen, Orzolek, and Chaparral Boats
Deondra Scott was swimming behind a rented boat at North Carolina’s annual Lake Norman Lake Bash on June 25, 2011. A novice operator backed over her, then went forward over her striking her twice with the Chaparral boat’s propeller. Scott filed suit against the boat operator (Dennis Allen), the boat rental operation (David Orzolek), and the boat builder (Chaparral Boats).
Deondra L. Scott v. Dennis F. Allen, David D. Orzolek, and Chaparral Boats, Inc. was filed on January 3, 2012 in the General Court of Justice Superior Court Division, County of Mecklenburg, North Carolina.
I recall the accident. It captured national attention, a pretty young woman struck by a boat propeller, reminiscent of the more recent December 2011 ultra high profile Lauren Scruggs airplane propeller accident. I see our archives captured 19 news articles covering the Deondra Scott Lake Norman Lake Bash accident and some news videos.
Ronnie Stephens of Charlotte has sponsored the Lake Bash for 21 years. A friend of his said they hire private security and give advance notice to lake authorities of the date.
Dennis Allen was maneuvering to tie up to a nearby boat, a few passengers including Scott thought the boat was off and jumped into the water. Scott was swimming back to the ladder, a lady on board and others screamed at Allen to turn off the engine, He panicked and jerked the boat to reverse, Scott was struck by the prop, still unable to view the water at the rear he panicked and shoved the drive in forward striking her again. Scott suffered a laceration to her right arm (since been amputated), laceration to her breasts (since been amputated), lacerations to both legs, punctured lung, and a severed sternum.
A man on a nearby boat (Cliff Coleman) thought Allen was trying to raft to them, saw Scott in the water, saw blood in the water, saw her go under, saw the other boat slow to respond, so he jumped in the water and found her about three feet under the surface. He pulled Scott to his friend’s boat where a chiropractor used towels and rope as tourniquets around her arm and a leg. Then they took her to the dock where she was life flighted to Carolinas Medical Center. In addition, Scott suffered the emotional and psychological problems surrounding these types of accidents and injuries.
Deondra Scott is represented by Matthew Flatow and Adam Seifer of SeiferFlatow PLLC of Charlotte, North Carolina.
We have not yet seen who will be representing Chaparral.
The Propeller Accident Victim’s Claims
Deondra Scott, age 26, says the Chaparral boat was unreasonably dangerous because the operator’s vision was obstructed to the rear, especially when several passengers were on board. She also claimed Chaparral failed to provide adequate, reasonable warnings. Deondra Scott complaint.
This was Dennis Allen’s first time to ever operate a motor boat of any kind. He rented a 24 foot Chaparral 244 Sunesta capable of carrying 14 persons. In order to carry 14 people properly seated, two of them have to be on the swim platform facing the stern. When those two seats are occupied, they especially obstruct the boat operator’s view of the water behind the boat. The vessel encourages swimming behind it (it has a swim platform and a swim ladder) AND has limited lighting and warning signs to enhance the safety of swimmers behind the boat if the propeller is turning. The swim platform and ladder are very near the propeller.
A North Carolina law passed in 2010 requires boaters under 26 to take a boating safety class and pass a test, but at age 30, Allen was not required to do so. Allen was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the accident. He has been separately charged with negligent operation of a motorboat shortly after the accident.
David Orzolek rented the boat knowing the intended operator had never operated a boat before AND the Lake Bash is a huge public event in which he would be maneuvering in crowded areas with people in the water. Per the complaint, Orzolek provided some instructions in operation of the boat, but not those adequate for a first time operator in the Lake Bash environment. An estimated 300 to 400 boats were gathered in the area of the accident. One officer estimated as many as 600 boats could have been there.
The Chaparral 244 Sunesta
Chaparral is being sued for the alleged unsafe design of the 244 Sunesta (encouraging swimming behind the boat, but not making it safe back there, and not allowing the operator to see the area behind the boat from the helm), and for not warning the operator and/or passengers of the potential dangers.
The 244 Sunesta is popular model. The image above is currently featured on their web site. The openness, large capacity, and easy access to the water make the Sunesta a popular model. From the photo, you can also imagine how two adults in the swim platform seats could obstruct the operator’s view of the water, as well as how quickly people in those seats could enter the water.
One news report said there were 15 people on board. One can envision how hard it would be to see the water with that many people on board in a party atmosphere, and some of them possibly standing.
Since the accident local authorities and the community have been discussing how best to make sure boat rental operations provide the level of instruction necessary and a possible requirement to take a boating safety class.
The Lawsuit is Filed and Announced
In late January 2012 Deondra Scott took part in several interviews and news appearances surrounding the lawsuit and boating safety.
Prior to the accident she worked at a local Olive Garden Restaurant and was saving her funds for college. With those funds now gone toward her soaring medical bills (now approaching one million dollars), she now hopes to become a motivational speaker and a professional singer. Deondra, if you happen to read this, we encourage you to visit Todd Huston. He was struck at age 14 and went on to accomplish many things, and to become a well known motivational speaker. Plus you mention your desire to lend you voice to boating safety, SPIN has organized many propeller victims to campaign for boating safety and to support one another. You might find a place for your voice there.
One news report says the defendants have until February 3rd to file a response.
Uninsured (as are many young people involved in boat propeller accidents) Deondra Scott accepted donations toward her medical bills at DeondraScott.com (web site closed in July 2012). She also has a Deondra Scott Facebook Support Group.
When local news media started covering the case, the boating industry picked it up:
- Woman Sues Driver, Rental Operator, Chaparral Following Lake Norman Injury. Boating Industry. January 24, 2012.
- Chaparral Boats Faces Prop Lawsuit. Soundings Trade Only. January 24, 2012.
We found it interesting that Chaparral said they knew nothing of the accident before being named in the lawsuit. We would not be surprised to see a drive manufacture’s name added to the suit. Drive companies usually try to stick the responsibility on the boat operator and injured parties, then on the builder (unless it was a captive builder) so the builder may return the favor OR the drive company may enter the case anyway to help prevent more losses elsewhere if this case goes down the drain. The 2012 Sunesta’s are offered with Mercury and Volvo Penta stern drive packages. We see some twin propellers on the MerCruiser stern drive versions.
Tips to the Lawyers on Both Sides and to Chaparral
We are just throwing out a few ideas that might interest both sides of the case.
Are you guys aware BoatPix.com shot aerial photos of Lake Bash 2011? We stumbled on that while searching for YouTube photos of the 2011 Lake Bash. Many years ago we had a somewhat similar idea in another field and are glad to see these guys appear to be having success with it in this one.
Since Chaparral was unaware of this propeller accident both sides might want to be checking USCG’s BARD database for similar accidents. We noticed you won’t have to look far. We see at least two in 2010 and at least two in 2009:
- GA-2010-0077 – June 25, 2010, Lake Lanier, operator reversed a 28 foot Chaparral stern drive from the beach and failed to note a 23 year old female passenger was still in the water at the stern. She was struck by the propeller in the arm and left breast. Does that sound familiar? Scott’s accident happened on the one year anniversary of this one. That’s freaky, and pretty much makes foreseeablity a moot point.
- GA-2010-0133 – September 29, 2010, Lake Hartwell, operator reversed 22 foot Chaparral stern drive while a male skier was trying to board. Both his legs were struck by the propeller.
- 2009-VA-0056 – July 5, 2009 Smith Mountain Lake operator backed 22 foot Chaparral stern drive into a tuber while attempting to pick them up. Boat was a Chaparral 230SSI.
- 2009-NC-0053 – June 14, 2009 Tuckertown Lake near New London NC operator of Chaparral stern drive was picking up his wife from tubing. He was reversing to get closer, realized he was getting too close, tried to move control to forward but it was stuck in reverse. Wife was struck in leg by the propeller. Looks like her name might be Sarah Davis. She was taken to Concord by Stanley County EMS.
- Earlier, we found one more 2009 Chaparral accident, but on closer inspection, it involved two boats and we were reading the wrong one.
Additionally, a 25 foot Chaparral was involved in one of the deadliest propeller accidents in 2010. On May 31, 2010 (Memorial Day), a Chaparral 2550SX stern drive boat ran over the top of a smaller boat on the Intercoastal Waterway in sight of the Ponce Inlet Florida Coast Guard Station. Cyrill Holley (46), Madison Holley (his 19 year old daughter) and her unborn male child were all killed by its propeller. The Coast Guard did not classify them as propeller fatalities because they were not in the water. Officials announced it would be considered a triple fatality. BARD # 2010-FL-0253 just labels the two adults as death by trauma. Others were also injured in the same accident. The last we heard they were still investigating it. One group suggested the Chaparral’s bow was raised because they were trying to go on plane. The operator may not have seen the smaller boat over the raised bow.
USCG might be able to identify some more 2010 Chaparral propeller accidents for you guys. Only about half the states reported to the public version of BARD in 2010 PLUS the public version only has recreational boats in it. USCG’s “private” version of BARD includes at least some accidents from the other half of the states plus accidents involving commercial and government boats just like these, and other accidents left out of public BARD for various reasons. Just contact USCG’s Office of Boating Safety and they can look in the “private” BARD. If anybody needs some help finding contact info the USCG Boating Safety Office, drop us a line.
Words people use searching for this page include: Deandra Scott, law suit, woman, girl, breast, Charlotte, NC, Lake Norman, arm cut off, amputated.
There are so many holes in this story. I was there. In the water, and there are so many things wrong. So maddening.
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