Friday, October 9, 1998

Woman sues
state over
boating fatality

At issue is whether
the state adequately regulates
a 'no-wake zone'
off Waikiki

By Susan Kreifels


It's not the boat driver whom Marlene Jones-Skurtu is holding responsible for the accident that killed her father. It's the state.

She and her stepmother, Shirley Jones, who has died, are suing the state for undetermined damages for failing to adequately regulate and warn the public about the "slow-no-wake zone" off Waikiki Beach, where her father died after being struck by a boat.

On July 4, 1994, Cannon Jones was swimming off Waikiki Beach. Janet Bowman, 51, was at the wheel of a motorboat towing a water-skier. The boat ran over Cannon Jones, 67, who died later of injuries.

The state charged Bowman, a high-school teacher, with second-degree negligent homicide, accusing her of being too close to shore and within what's called a "no-wake zone." Bowman, who was acquitted, testified that she didn't see any buoys or signs marking the zone.

None are there today.

Although the Jones family only names the state in the lawsuits, the state made Bowman and boat owner Robert Bright third parties to the lawsuit, saying the court must have all parties involved in the accident before it to determine liability.

The state agreed, however, that the two will not be responsible for any monetary claims made against them.

But Jones-Skurtu does not blame Bowman. She blames the state.

"The state made the rules but is not enforcing them," said the Amarillo, Texas, woman. "The public has to go and research in the library to find out these lines exist."

Because there were no buoys to show Bowman where the zone was, Jones-Skurtu said "she's a victim, too."

Bright said "it's been four years of hell for us." He said Bowman "woke up at night for months" after the accident.

This week, Deputy Attorney General Carl Debo told Family Court Judge Robert Mark Browning, sitting in the Circuit Court, that there are no federal or state rules or regulations that say the state must place intermittent buoys to mark the slow-no-wake zone.

Nor did the defense present evidence that the Marine Patrol had a duty to prevent the injury, he said.

Debo said outside the courtroom yesterday that the U.S. Coast Guard has placed markers at the ends of Waikiki -- at Diamond Head and the Ala Wai Canal.

But attorney Eve Green, representing Shirley Jones, referred to a state Supreme Court ruling that said a defendant should take reasonable actions when there are recognizable dangers and a reasonable belief that harm may follow.

"There is abundant evidence that the state recognizes the risks," Green said.

"It adopted the zones in recognition of the risks."

Charles Ferrera, representing Jones-Skurtu, said that although there are no laws saying the state must put out intermittent buoys to mark the zone, it is the state's responsibility to manage the safety of the water. He said it established the zone as well as the zone rules and should provide reasonable access to information on the zone.

But Ferrera said the only public information is in a three-volume book in the library.

Attorneys are to file written closing arguments Monday in the nonjury trial.

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