According to WFTV-9, two others are in critical condition while Simmons’ 18-year-old surfer/ model daughter suffered a broken femur. The boat belonged to Simmons, who was not on the boat and said it was taken without his permission. The group was celebrating the teen’s boyfriend’s birthday, according to witnesses.
Arrested with causing serious injury while boating under the influence was 45-year-old Krystyna Vitiello, Simmons’ ex-sister-in-law. Per F.S. 327.35, a person is guilty of boating under the influence if he or she operates a vessel while either under the influence of alcohol or drugs or with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or higher. If the person commits BUI with serious bodily injury against another, it’s a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
Authorities say two men on board suffered life-threatening injuries and were transported to a nearby hospital.
Investigators with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) told the media speed may have also been a factor in the boating accident. Initial reports are that the 22-foot SeaDoo boat smashed into the dock just after midnight.
A nearby resident was quoted by local news sources as saying the dock and peninsula is a swampy area, and it can “sneak up on you” if you aren’t aware that it’s there or if you’re trying to navigate through the area at night without lights.
When the boat crashed into the dock, it became lodged along the seawall and caused extensive property damage too.
Simmons reportedly owns a home on that lake, but it’s not his primary address and it was not clear if he was there at the time of the accident. Lake Maitland is a popular Central Florida boating spot, and it’s one of the few in the area with a public boating ramp, though it is surrounded by luxury homes. It also connects to a number of nearby navigable canals.
Simmons stated Vitiello has never taken the boat out previously that he is aware of.
Simmons’ daughter underwent surgery. It’s not clear what the health status is of the other two victims, both young men. Authorities said one man had “obvious facial injuries” and another was unconscious and bleeding when help arrived, shortly after a nearby homeowner called 911.
Vitiello said she had been driving the boat previously, but someone else was operating the vessel when it actually crashed. Whether that will make a difference in her criminal case remains to be seen.
As far as liability for personal injury, this case could be a bit tricky. Certainly, a case could be made to hold Vitiello liable for negligent operation of a vessel (if indeed she was the one at the helm). However, holding the boat owner (Simmons) liable would be tougher because he stated he did not grant permission to those on board. That could complicate insurance coverage of the accident as well.
Vitiello was previously arrested for driving under the influence in 2006, but later pleaded no contest to reckless driving.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Sen. David Simmons’ daughter hurt, her aunt arrested in boat crash, April 5, 2016, By Stephanie Allen, Orlando Sentinel
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Hughes v. Farmers Auto Ins. Ass’n. – Per-Accident Insurance Limits, April 8, 2016, Fort Lauderdale Boating Accident Lawyer Blog