Modified wave runner had estimated top speed of 65 to 66 mph
An inquest into the death of Mark Anthony Lopez, 19, revealed that he died of internal injuries after the watercraft he was operating crashed into a private dock in South Sound on Sunday afternoon, 4 July, 2010.
Evidence included a report of weather conditions that day and an inspection of the Kawasaki STX-15F he was riding at the time.
According to the weather report, there was an active tropical wave supporting thunderstorms and a small craft advisory was in effect. The forecast was for showers and gusty winds from 11am through the evening.
Vito Ernesto Welcome, 21, told the court he was the owner of the wave runner, having traded his car for it and another car two weeks earlier. He and Mark, whom he had known all his life, got together with Kaz Tatum and Fabian McField at South Sound in the vicinity of the Red Bay Public Dock. Fabian had a wave runner also and the four young men took turns riding the two machines.
Vito said since Mark was using his wave runner he asked if he could use Fabian’s. As he was putting on Fabian’s vest and goggles, he looked up at Mark riding toward the dock. “It sounded as if he was too close. From my experience riding, I believe that he was travelling about 60 miles an hour. I continued putting on my life jacket and I heard a very loud crash.”
He said it looked as if Mark had hit the private dock on the other side of the public dock. He rode to where Mark was floating face down, dove into the water, turned Mark face up and pulled him to the dock. There he tried to push Mark on to the dock, but the board on the side of the dock was broken off where the wave runner had hit. Then Kaz and Fabian came and assisted and they got Mark onto the dock.
Vito said he shouted for someone to call an ambulance and then they tried to keep Mark conscious by holding him and calling his name until the ambulance came.
Fabian’s statement said he and Vito rode together about five minutes before it started to rain. They kept about 20 feet apart: “In case we made a mistake we would have time to correct it.” At 20 feet, he could hardly see Vito. At one stage he thought they should leave because he could hardly see and the weather wasn’t getting any better. He said the sea was choppy and the rain was heavy, but when they had started riding it wasn’t raining.
He noted that when he rode Vito’s wave runner, it was working well.
Fabian said Mark had experience riding wave runners at Rum Point.
Kaz said he thought Mark was not a good rider, as he liked motorcycles better than water sports.
John Grossan described himself as an experienced rider, taking part in organised races. He was at South Sound, where the water was really rough outside the reef was and relatively rough inside the reef. He saw Mark riding and it appeared he was at full throttle. John realised Mark was drifting inwards toward the private pier. He started to say it looked as if Mark would hit the dock, but he didn’t even finish the sentence when Mark hit. At no time did he release the throttle. As he had watched Mark ride, he said he could see Mark was not experienced, as he did not appear to be in control of the bike.
The watercraft was taken to Central Police Station and examined by a mechanic who said it seemed to be working fine until it ran into the dock.
The jury heard from Ales Cevala, who inspected the craft along with Randrel Medina, for whom various certifications were presented from Kawasaki Motors in the Philippines. Mr. Cevala took the jury through an itemised list of modifications that had been made to the craft for the purpose of increasing speed. All of them together probably improved top speed by three to five miles per hours to 65 or 66 mph, he said. He said the engine and starter seemed okay and there were no issues with the throttle.
One juror asked if there was evidence of a kill switch. Mr. Cevala said the system was in place for the kill switch, which is a piece of plastic on the rider’s wrist and hooked to the handlebar. It’s supposed to stop the engine when pulled out, but the person rescuing the rider would see if the plastic was on his wrist.
Dr. Shravana Jyoti told the court that when Mark was brought to the hospital he was operated on to have his damaged spleen removed and doctors found a lot of blood in his abdomen. Mark succumbed to his injuries after the surgical intervention. The physical cause of death was severe blunt force trauma causing injuries to the head, chest, abdomen and extremities, resulting in multiple fractures and lacerations to internal organs. Tests for alcohol and recreational drugs were negative.
The jury returned a verdict of misadventure.