Estate of man who died on Puget Sound dive excursion sues for wrongful death

The estate of an Oregon man who drowned on a Puget Sound diving excursion has sued the groups that led the trip, including a Pierce County-based charter boat service.

The wrongful death suit, filed last week in Pierce County Superior Court, seeks unspecified damages for the estate of Robert Vance of Oregon City, Oregon.

Vance, 40, died Nov. 19, 2011, leaving behind a son, now 19.

The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Vance’s death an accident.

The lawsuit contends Steve’s Scuba Center of Milwaukie, Oregon; Bandito Charters of the Tacoma area; and Scuba Schools International of Fort Collins, Colorado, were negligent in their supervision of the excursion on which Vance died.

Rick Meyers, owner of Bandito Charters, declined to comment last week. Attempts to reach representatives of Steve’s Scuba Center and Scuba Schools International were unsuccessful.

According to the lawsuit, Vance had made 23 dives before Nov. 19, 2011, but was making his first cold water boat dive that day.

He and several other student divers were aboard The Sampan, a dive boat operated by Bandito, when it left a dock near Gig Harbor that morning.

The lawsuit, filed by attorney Jay Chock of Portland, contends Steve’s Scuba Center provided Vance with two air tanks that day, both of which contained toxic levels of carbon monoxide.

When Vance entered the water alone just before 10 a.m., he almost immediately began experiencing equipment problems, including loose swim fins and trouble with his breathing apparatus, the lawsuit states.

“Robert Vance was clearly distressed, exhausted, light-headed and was struggling to stay afloat,” the suit states.

Instead of helping him out of the water, dive instructors and deckhands shouted instructions, the lawsuit contends.

Vance then passed out and sank to the bottom in 52 feet of water. It took between five and 10 minutes to rescue him, according to the suit.

“He was brought to the surface and CPR was performed at length until the boat reached the dock and Robert Vance was transported to Tacoma General Hospital, where he remained in an unconscious state until he was pronounced dead at approximately 5:40 p.m. that same day,” the lawsuit shows.

The defendants could have and should have done more to save Vance, according to the suit.

“Defendants failed to read and react to Mr. Vance’s panic and thereby properly respond and rescue him in accordance with industry custom, practice and applicable standards, and, in doing so, failed to preclude his injury and death,” the suit states.