Man convicted in watercraft crash Charge of reckless endangerment filed after child's death

June 15, 1996|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

CENTREVILLE -- In the most serious prosecution yet undertaken by the state in a fatal accident involving personal watercraft, James DiMaggio, 28, of Severna Park was convicted yesterday of four counts of reckless endangerment and nine counts of violating state boating regulations.

The criminal charges stemmed from an accident Aug. 22 in Queen Anne's County when DiMaggio took six children under the age of 14 to a creek and let them go out on personal watercraft.

Roxanne Bedell, 13, of Severna Park, was killed when the personal watercraft she was operating was hit by one operated by Molly Legg, 11.

Judge Harry J. Goodrick found DiMaggio guilty and asked for a presentencing investigation. Each count of reckless endangerment carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail and/or a $5,000 fine; the boating violations carry a maximum penalty of a $500 fine.

"He exposed these children to the risk of serious bodily injury," Goodrick said in announcing the verdict. "None of them had qualified in any way, shape or form."

State law at the time required operators of personal watercraft, commonly known by the trade name Jetski, to be at least 14 years old and certified in boat safety. Since then, the minimum age has been raised to 16, the age recommended by makers of personal watercraft.

"It really isn't too much different than letting them operate a chain saw," said Chip Gregory, Queen Anne's state's attorney, during the trial. "It was a disaster waiting to happen."

Three officers of the Maryland Natural Resources Police who testified in the case said the verdict was important because it sends a message to boaters: Follow the rules.

"Today the judge held an adult responsible for the supervision of children," said Joe Offer, a Natural Resources Police investigator "The bottom line in this case is, we all know operating Jetskis is fine, but there's a certain amount of responsibility involved."

Three of the six children involved in the accident testified during the 2 1/2 -hour trial in District Court in this picturesque town, county seat of Queen Anne's. DiMaggio also took the stand, breaking into tears when asked to describe the events leading to Bedell's death.

"I heard a scream," he said. "Somebody, I don't remember who it was, was waving frantically. I noticed blood in the water."

DiMaggio testified that he had taken three of his siblings and two of their friends out that Sunday afternoon to Jackson Creek, near Grasonville. None of the five had ever been alone on personal watercraft before, he said, so he held a brief period of instruction before forming them into pairs for an afternoon ride.

DiMaggio stood on a pier to supervise them, he and others testified, but he didn't see the accident happen.

"We went to turn -- we didn't have enough power," Molly Legg testified. She was operating the craft that hit Bedell's. "The wheel locked. Then we hit the other Jetski."

"I was the passenger on the Jetski that hit Roxanne," Ashley DiMaggio told the judge. "We decided to go splash Rhiannon [DiMaggio, her sister] and Roxanne. We weren't going that fast, I think about 30 or 40 miles per hour. She tried to turn, but she didn't press hard enough, and it didn't turn."

She and the other children testified that DiMaggio had told them to stay "a football field apart" from each other.

Personal watercraft have become popular in recent years, and four people have died in Maryland in accidents involving the craft, all in 1995, according to state Department of Natural

Resources records. DiMaggio is the first person to be charged with reckless endangerment; the other three accidents involved adults.

bTC The craft have a maximum speed of about 55 mph. They are motorized and draw power by pulling water from the bottom of the craft through a tube to the rear. If the throttle is not open, the craft loses steerage and locks into a straight line, as apparently happened to Legg.

Pub Date: 6/15/96

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