The British dive professionals who became fugitives from justice for more than 10 years were finally sentenced in Miami federal court on 9 September, for their roles in the involuntary manslaughter of a scuba diver in 2011.
The capture of Christopher Jones and Alison Gracey was reported on Divernet in April 2021, and their guilty pleas in May this year. Sentencing had originally been scheduled for mid-August.
Jones, 58, was ordered by senior US District Court Judge James Lawrence King to serve 51 months in prison, followed by a three-year term of supervised release. Gracey, 55, was sentenced only to the time she had already served in custody – 18.5 months – plus one year’s supervised release. Maximum sentences for their offence could have been eight years in prison.
The couple owned Key Largo Scuba Shack, which operated scuba-diving charters in the Florida Keys from the 7.5m vessel Get Wet for about 18 months until December 2011.
On 18 December the dive-boat was out carrying six passengers and two crew. At the first dive-site at Molasses Reef the bilge pump had failed in choppy seas. Get Wet began taking on water and rolling heavily as the divers were climbing back aboard. It eventually capsized, quickly sinking 9m to the seabed.
A badly secured 136kg bench came away from the deck as it sank, then sprang back towards the surface under its own buoyancy, trapping 36-year-old diver Aimee Rhoads against the windscreen of the boat and causing her to drown.
A Coast Guard criminal investigation later revealed that none of Get Wet’s bilge compartments had been watertight, bolts were missing, timbers holding the bench had been rotten and the screws meant to secure it too small. The failed bilge pump had previously been dismantled and incorrectly re-assembled.
Jones and Gracey were shown to have been told that repairs were required, both by the Coast Guard and by employees, but had continued operating Get Wet in the knowledge that it was unsafe. In the two months before the sinking, a marine salvor had towed the boat to shore three times.
The couple, who had been in the Bahamas opening another Scuba Shack in Bimini at the time of the incident, fled the USA but were finally arrested in 2021 in Spain on an Interpol Red Notice. They were extradited last January to face the federal charges.
On completing their sentences, both are to be deported from the USA.