Friday, April 25, 2008
7 News Investigations: Ripped Away
We've seen it happen over and over again at our beaches. Locals and tourists swept away by rip currents, some never making it out alive. While most public beaches do have a warning system for rip currents, Seven News has found some beaches go unguarded. Tonight, in a special assignment report, one family is suing, saying their loved one was Ripped Away.
WSVN -- Sasha Herrera was living a love story. She and her longtime boyfriend Giankarlo were just months away from getting married.
Sasha Herrera: "We had so many plans. We were going to get married. We were going to move to Fort Lauderdale and get our own house."
But, in a matter of seconds, all those plans would be ripped away. The couple and some friends had driven up from Miami last Memorial Day weekend to relax at the Four Seasons resort in Palm Beach.
Sasha Herrera: "To enjoy each other, to enjoy our friends and their kids, to have a nice peaceful time and it ended up a tragedy, a horrible thing."
As the couple and their friends sat on the beach at the resort that Sunday, nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
Sasha Herrera: "The day was a sunny, beautiful day. The water was clear."
But an unseen danger was lurking just offshore.
Sasha Herrera: "We heard someone calling out that their children were in trouble."
Two girls were being swept away by a rip current.
Sasha Herrera: "My fiancé and his friend went out into the water to attempt to save them."
Giankarlo and his friend were able to hold the girls above the water until they could be rescued. Everyone made it out of the water, except Sasha's fiancé.
Sasha Herrera: "I thought he's going to go into the water and help whoever is in trouble and come out just as he went in, but it wasn't like that."
The man who went out to save others couldn't save himself. The grip of the rip current was too strong, and Giankarlo drowned.
Sasha Herrera: "They tried to resuscitate him but he wasn't reacting."
Giankarlo's family claims there were no warnings posted about dangerous water conditions on the beach behind the Four Seasons, no verbal warnings, no red flags, no lifeguards to keep them out of the water.
Sasha Herrera: "I did not have any idea that it was going to be dangerous to be out in the water."
Giankarlo's family is suing the Four Seasons, and their attorney says the hotel should have warned its guests that day.
Tom Culmo: "The National Weather service, that day, advised that there were very, very severe rip currents that day, and the advisory was to keep swimmers, even strong swimmers, out of the water."
Seven News contacted the Four Seasons. No one would go on camera, instead, issuing this e-mail statement saying: "We'll leave it in the hands of our lawyers to respond appropriately in court." The statement went on to say, "The resort also makes it a practice to notify guests about water conditions at all times, as the safety of our guests and employees is of great importance to us."
However, in a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the hotel claims they had "no duty to warn Mr. Squicimari about naturally occuring conditions in the ocean" and that the resort does not own or operate a "privately owned beach." In addition to the suit, Giankarlo's family is asking state lawmakers for a change.
Olga Giner: "I want to make sure that the laws are in place and for accidents like this to be avoided and prevented."
Right now, flag warnings of water conditions are not required on any beach in the state of Florida, though most state and city beaches do post warnings. The family thinks every beach should have them.
Senator Bullard: "I'm really shocked that, at this time, it has not been addressed."
Senator Larcenia Bullard, whose district includes an enormous amount of coastline, agrees something needs to be done.
Senator Larcenia Bullard: "I will definitely talk with my caucus members and talk with them about it and bring these issues to their attention. Every hotel should have a warning."
When we went to the Four Seasons in March of this year, the hotel did have warning signs posted on its walkway to the beach. Giankarlo's loved ones claim, if those signs had been up last year, he may be alive today.
Sasha Herrera: "If we would have been warned, Giankarlo would be here right now with me."
Today, Sasha still wears her engagement ring, a reminder of the man who was ripped away from her too soon.
Sasha Herrera: "I was blessed with this unconditional love and friendship and love is all about giving yourself, and he did that for me and for others."
Giankarlo's family is not asking for a specific monetary amount in their lawsuit. They will leave that up to a jury.