Police remain tightlipped about the death of a swimmer allegedly killed by a powerboat near Guana Island, but new information has been posted on social media.
On Jan. 30, Jean-yves Noblet, a friend of the victim’s family, posted the police report of the incident to a public Facebook group called “Sailing,” which has more than 130,000 members who post sailing news from all over the world.
The report names Dewayne George as the captain of the vessel Sovereign, which allegedly ran over John LaGrassa and Elizabeth Barry while they were snorkeling near Monkey Point, Guana Island, on Jan. 3.
Mr. LaGrassa suffered lacerations between his lower back and feet, the report stated, and was pronounced dead after succumbing to multiple incisions inflicted by the propellers.
Mr. George called police following the incident, according to the report.
The couple were passengers aboard the boat Arabella, which is owned by the Manhattan Yacht Club. They were traveling with several other visitors, including the owners of boating companies in Bermuda, a six-time America’s Cup champion, and Jim Hedleston, a close friend who said he witnessed the incident.
Afterwards, Mr. Hedleston and other passengers decided to design a proposed pilot programme for safe boating in North Sound, Virgin Gorda.
As part of that process, they reviewed regulations found in the Mediterranean, New York, Bermuda and other places.
“When they introduce new laws, they try to pull a similar law from another country and adapt it to the BVI,” Mr. Hedleston explained. “I’m doing some investigation into some countries that have marine ticket laws that seem to be effective and reduce marine incidents.”
He also sought input from people who would be affected by such laws here, and said that they “all need to be in agreement.”
Since the incident, he’s met with representatives from Virgin Islands Search and Rescue, the Bitter End Yacht Club, Dive BVI, Sun Chasers Scuba, Necker Island, Saba Rock, the Marine Police, the BVI Tourist Board, ferry operators and boat captains.
So far, Mr. Hedleston said, the feedback to his talks, which include a PowerPoint presentation of the proposal, has been very positive.
“What I’m asking for is input and endorsement,” he explained Friday. “It’s pretty unanimous: people are supportive of this.”
The proposal includes creating designated areas where swimmers have “legal right of way” and vessels yield to humans; adding a 200-foot shore zone; fining violators $250 per violation; and confiscating boats after five violations. Mr. Hedleston is also promoting stronger enforcement of existing regulations.
“One of the things that I find odd is that there is no marine office to issue a ticket for people violating the law,” he said. “It takes months to summon a person. …We need to have a better enforcement system in place in order to get people to pay attention to the safety rules.”
In a recent conversation with Police Commissioner Michael Matthews, Mr. Hedleston said, the commissioner confirmed there is no functional system for ticketing for marine violations but said the territory needs one.
In his North Sound pilot programme, Mr. Hedleston proposes to enforce marine rules by opening a harbour patrol office at the immigration building in Gun Creek and by empowering the government to appoint bay constables from the civilian population.
Mr. Hedleston also met with National Parks Trust Marine Programme Coordinator Finfun Peters, who he said confirmed that there are marine violation tickets printed for use but no one has the authority to issue them.
Most of the tickets revolve around environmental issues, however, Mr. Hedleston said he was told.
Efforts to reach Mr. Peters were not successful at the time of publication.
The proposed pilot programme also includes education. The American Sailing Association volunteered to provide an online class and quiz, which Mr. Hedleston hopes to make a requirement for all charter boat rentals and ferry captains, as well as staff in North Sound restaurants and resorts.
Creating handouts to distribute at ports of entry would also help educate the public, he added in the presentation.
The goal is for residents and visitors to hold each other accountable, he explained.
“We’ll push ahead with the education initiative without enforcement,” said Mr. Hedleston, who hopes to have the online test up and running by the end of this month. “Education is a big part of this whole thing even if you don’t have immediate enforcement.”
The recent deaths
The late Mr. LaGrassa was born in 1961 and grew up in Long Island, New York. Mr. Hedleston described him as “a natural leader” who was a licensed captain. The two met through the Manhattan Yacht Club, where Mr. Hedleston also met his wife.
“John was so intertwined with our lives,” he said, remembering the vacations he’s taken with Mr. LaGrassa over the years. Mr. LaGrassa was in the territory with Ms. Barry to celebrate and officiate the wedding of the commodore of the Manhattan Yacht Club, where Mr. LaGrassa served as vice commodore.
In the Jan. 3 incident, Mr. LaGrassa succumbed to his wounds while Ms. Barry sustained injuries.
Mr. LaGrassa’s memorial service was held two weekends ago in Long Island, Mr. Hedleston shared.
“Water was his life,” he commented.
Police have been similarly tight-lipped about the Dec. 20 death of Zdenek Tesar, a 52-year-old-tourist from Canada, in the waters off Virgin Gorda.
After both deaths, the police issued brief press releases that contained the names of the victims, as well as the time and general location of what were described as “marine incidents.” They have declined to provide more details about the circumstances of either death.
As of Friday, Mr. Hedleston said, he had confirmed with a police officer that the case was handed to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions on Feb. 3 but no charges had been filed. Attempts to reach the DPP’s office were unsuccessful.
The police report was released to family members, and Mr. LaGrassa’s family shared it with Mr. Noblet, according to Mr. Hedleston.
Attempts to reach Dr. Henry Jarecki, owner of the Sovereign and Guana Island, were unsuccessful.
Requests to the Police Information Office for more information about the incidents have not been answered.
Mr. Matthews said he was unable to comment on either investigation. Both cases, he added, are under investigation by the police and could be subject to a court hearing in the future.
Efforts to contact Mr. George were unsuccessful.