Justin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, two Tequesta teenagers, disappeared on a fishing trip at sea in 2015. The Cohen family filed a wrongful death action recently against Austin’s family citing negligence. The two had been friends for several years and their families participated in recreational activities together in the past. The friendly relations between the families turned sour after Pamela Cohen contacted the other family after their whereabouts were unknown for five hours. Earlier that day, Pamela had said goodbye to the boys as they went fishing. That day, the winds in the Atlantic rose to nearly 40 mph, and the boat was suspected of sinking.
The previous night Perry had slept over at Austin’s home with the intention of going fishing in the morning. The suit contends that neither boy would have been allowed to venture off the coast without an adult. Austin’s grandfather supposedly provided the boys with $100 for fuel for their trip. The boat did not have an onboard radio, GPS, or other form of equipment for communicating in an emergency. Austin’s grandmother recalled the boys saying that they were going to fish for dolphin. They departed from a marina and traveled through the Jupiter Inlet in route to the ocean. Austin sent a text to his mother for the final time as they entered the ocean that day. The boat was recovered two days after the accident near Daytona Beach, and appeared to have capsized. An exhaustive search was conducted for approximately 16 days, but the boys were not found.
Details of the Civil Suit
On the week that marked the two-year period from the date they disappeared, Guy Rubin, the attorney for the plaintiffs, filed the claim. The claim accused the defendants of the following:
- The boat lacked the proper equipment for entering the ocean
- Austin’s parents were aware that the boys intended to enter the ocean
- After the decision not to proceed with criminal charges, the Cohens felt this was their lone method of recourse
Rubin explained the basics of the suit to news outlets while outside of the Palm Beach County Court, but did not take questions. Rubin suggested that the cause was not merely the result of poor weather conditions or bad luck. He stated that the parents acted irresponsibly in allowing the 14-years-olds to venture into the ocean, particularly in the absence of tracking equipment, radio communication devices, and a clearly outlined plan of travel.
Rubin explained that if there was an award in the action, the funds would be given to charity. The Cohen’s thought a criminal charge of child neglect would have been appropriate in the matter; however, prosecutors cited a lack of evidence in the case. The bodies have not been recovered and are the boys are certainly assumed to be dead. This incident was a partial factor in new boater safety regulations that took effect this year.