TALLAHASSEE — Moved by tearful testimony of victims of parasailing accidents and their mothers, a Senate committee gave swift, unanimous approval Thursday to legislation requiring operators of the thrill rides to carry at least $1 million in liability insurance and shut down when weather gets threatening.
“You don’t think, going parasailing, something bad could happen like this,” Alexis Fairchild, 17, of Huntington, Ind., said at a news conference prior to the Senate Regulated Industries Committee hearing. “You don’t think, going into your senior year, you’re going to be struggling, going to doctors appointments and staying home with your parents.”
Fairchild suffered severe brain injuries when a tow line snapped during an approaching storm near Panama City last year, throwing her and another Indiana teen-ager against a 13-story building and power lines. Her mother, Angelia Fairchild, fought back tears as she told the committee of helping her daughter learn to walk and function over the past seven months.
In addition to the million-dollar insurance requirement, the bill (SB 320) by Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, would require boats to have radios for weather forecasts. It would forbid commercial parasailing in sustained winds of more than 20 miles per hour, or when gusts blow 15 miles above regular speed. They would also have to park their boats when a lightning storm comes within seven miles, Sachs said.
Shannon Hively wept as she haltingly told of the death of her daughter Amber White, 15, and her family’s struggle to help her other daughter, Crystal, recover from a series of injuries the sisters suffered in 2007 when the tow line on a tandem parasail broke off Pompano Beach.
“I let my children go on vacation with my neighbor and one weekend, I had two children who getting were ready to start school,” she told the Senate committee. “By the next weekend, I had one and she didn’t come home to me whole.”
As the victims and their mothers struggled with emotion, Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, told the families, “there’s not a dry eye up here. We feel for you.”
“I don’t want any other girls to lose their sisters and suffer the way I’ve suffered, the way many other people have suffered,” said Crystal White, 24. “People should be able to be safe when they do water sports.”
Rep. Gwendolen Clarke-Reed, D-Deerfield Beach, sponsored the House version of the bill (HB 347), which early this month cleared the House Business and Professional Regulation Committee. She said Florida’s reputation as a safe place for spring break and family vacations is suffering because of news reports of deaths and crippling injuries caused by parasailing accidents.
Both legislators said they worked with parasailing operators to develop the bill, and that there is no organized opposition to it.
“We are not trying to punish the industry,” Clarke-Reed said. “We only want to make this a safe activity.”
Data from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said there are about 100 parasailing operations in the state. From 2001 through last October, the state recorded 21 accidents, with 23 injuries and six deaths.
Some of the accidents have been in Tampa Bay.
In April 2004, a crowd at Madeira Beach ran to save a pair of teenage girls dangling from one of the untethered giant kites after its rope snapped. In September 2010, a Georgia woman died in Clearwater Beach after being dragged ashore by a sail with a broken tow rope. And in June 2011, a South Carolina man died off Bradenton Beach when the boat towing him lost power, dropping him into the water.
How to sound off
SB 320/HB 347 would set minimum insurance requirements for parasailing operations and require them to stop for threatening weather.
Sponsors are Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, (850) 487-7864, and Rep. Gwendolen Clarke-Reed, D-Deerfield Beach, (850) 717-5092.
To find and contact your senator or representative, visit www.leg.state.fl.us/ You’ll also find helpful tips at the Information Center there.