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Manager of Aquatic Adventures fights parasailing regulations and hires convicted drunk driver as parasailing boat operator

Each and every year, families and friends have to mourn the loss of a loved one or see a loved one sustain life-altering injuries. Each and every year in Florida, it seems that someone will become critically injured in a parasailing accident. The reason for this horrific spectacle is the lack of any laws to regulate the parasailing industry. Floridians and tourists from out of state and from all over the world purchase parasail rides year round. The parasailing industry is a very lucrative business, which is inherently dangerous if practiced in a less than perfect environment.

To that end, Leesfield & Partners have pushed the legislator for regulations at the state-level to prevent preventable parasailing accidents. The incident which saw 17-year-old Sidney Good and 17-year-old Alexis Fairchild sustain catastrophic injuries is the latest of many preventable incidents. As long as Florida does not adopt strict regulations and force parasailing operators to answer to the law, there will be headlines in the news that another person lost their life due to the negligence of a parasailing operator.

Last year was the last attempt of many to pass a law to regulate that business, but the legislator failed, once again, due to the commercial and economic pressures put forth by special interests.

The law would have prevented parasail operators from operating within 1,800 feet of the shore. It would have required operators to have a radio on the vessel to closely monitor weather conditions, which are known to be rapidly changing in Florida, and would have prohibited any parasailing activity during sustained winds of 20 miles per hour or more. Lastly, it would have required that parasail businesses carry insurance of at least $1 million per person and $2 million per incident.

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One person spoke against the passage of the law: James Vaught, Managing Partner of Aquatic Adventures in Panama City Beach.

Sidney Good and Alexis Fairchild purchased a parasail ride from Aquatic Adventures earlier this week. They are both still listed as critically injured and recovering at the Bay Medical Center Sacred Heart Hospital.

In an interview with the NewsHerald, James Vaught voiced his displeasure with the proposed law. Back on April 4, 2013, Vaught said that parasail operators are getting a bad wrap from the media: “It’s a lot of bad information. We’re just not being looked at correctly. We’re being looked at like a bunch of rogue pirates.”

He continued by explaining that operating 1,800 feet away from shore would limit Aquatic Adventures’ ability to sell the activity to beachgoers. He also mentioned that his company follows self-imposed safety standards and that “only a handful are doing wrong.”

Despite Vaught’s reassuring quotes, his company, Aquatic Adventures, is now in the middle of an investigation following this tragic incident, which will soon determine whether his company and the captain of the Why Not were negligent and contributed to Sidney and Alexis’ injuries.

Tyler Churchwell was the captain of the Why Not, the vessel in use during Sidney and Alexis’ ride. Our investigation has revealed that Tyler Churchwell was arrested in the past for driving under the influence. He was found guilty of DUI, as well as possession of a controlled substance (marijuana) at the same time.

Vaught himself was arrested on several criminal charges, including altering a license plate, possession of a controlled substance (marijuana), leaving the scene of an accident, and driving without a license.

In all, Vaught and Churchwell have both been arrested, convicted, and/or cited for more than 30 criminal violations ranging from misdemeanor to felony.

The parasailing business is just that, a business. The activity however does not lack danger. When a person entrusts their life, or the life of their minor children, to a business that does not answer to the law, incidents will occur.

It would seem that the criminal record of Aquatic Adventures’ employees indicates that Vaught’s quotes of April 2013 were simply self-serving, begging the legislator to leave their business alone, unregulated, and unchallenged by the authorities. He did add that Aquatic Adventures has “been operating under safe operating practices for 12 years.” The investigation will tell in a few weeks exactly what went wrong on July 1, 2013, and by then, the families of Alexis and Sidney may disagree with Vaught’s rosy statements.

Click here to read more about the status of Alexis Fairchild and Sidney Good.

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