Riders relive boat tragedy in courtroom Crew of vessel tried on manslaughter charges in 3 deaths

I'm going to die'

Lawyer says clients acted reasonably, took every precaution

September 26, 1995|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

LEONARDTOWN -- In her final moments aboard the El Toro II, Teresa Shipe was convinced she was going to die.

The 58-foot fishing boat was taking on water, its engine was dead and waves were lapping at the windows of the cabin, where 20 passengers had huddled for protection from a raging storm, she told St. Mary's Circuit Judge John Hanson Briscoe yesterday.

Mrs. Shipe, whose husband died along with two others when the boat sank in December 1993, said she rushed to confront the captain, who was in the wheelhouse trying to radio for help.

"I said, you have to get somebody here now, you have to call in helicopters or whatever, cause I'm going to die," she recalled.

The captain, Joseph C. Lore, II, 54, and his son, Clayton S. Lore, 32, are being tried before Judge Briscoe on charges of manslaughter and reckless endangerment in the three deaths.

Passengers Robert B. Shipe, 45, of Mechanicsville and Horace I. Smith, 64, of Washington and crewman Eddie Philips, 19, of Piney Point died of hypothermia after being fished out of the 54-degree waters off Point Lookout on Dec. 5, 1993.

Yesterday, the passengers told of leaving the dock at Ridge on a calm Sunday morning and how the seas turned rough after they were out for about a half hour.

"It was mild when we first started, but then the wind really picked up," said Raymond M. Smith, 53, of Clinton, whose brother Horace was one of those killed.

By about noon, Mr. Lore decided to turn back, passengers said.

About a half hour into the return trip -- in 8-foot waves that slammed against the boat -- Clayton Lore came into the cabin, lifted the top of the engine box and "just started cursing," Mrs. Shipe said.

The engine stopped and Mr. Lore told everyone to put on life preservers, she said.

"There was a scrambling at the front of the boat for the life preservers," she said. "I saw all of these life preservers just flying around."

At Mr. Lore's request, Mr. Shipe and a few other passengers tried to bail water out of the 32-year-old wooden boat, but it was obvious the effort was a waste of time, Mrs. Shipe said.

In the meantime, the wind, which reached 35 mph, was picking up, rocking the boat violently, she said.

After she confronted the captain, someone managed to free the life raft attached to the roof of the cabin.

Her voiced choked with emotion, Mrs. Shipe told how she jumped into the water with her husband, "holding our hands together" and swimming for the raft in "the biggest waves I've ever seen."

She said that she was plucked to safety about 90 minutes after plunging into the water and recalled relief on her husband's face when she looked down at him from the helicopter.

"The last time I saw my husband alive he was looking up at me, as if to say to himself, 'It's OK now, she's out of the water,' " she said.

Mrs. Shipe and the families of the two others who died filed a $20 million negligence suit July 10 in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Robert H. Harvey Jr., a lawyer from Calvert County assigned to prosecute the case, said the ship sank because three wooden planks in the hull were not properly fastened.

He said the ship's fuel tanks also were not fastened properly to the bottom of the boat and pounded against the planks in the rough seas, causing the boat to spring a leak.

"The state's position is that the ship never should have been put out to sea in the condition it was in," Mr. Harvey said.

Julian J. Izydore, the Lores' lawyer, said his clients acted reasonably. The weather was satisfactory when they left port and they took every precaution possible when the storm swept over them, he said.

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