Boat accident survivor sues Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association

Chase Cook
Contact Reporterccook@capgaznews.com

The man who survived a boating accident in 2016 — while three other boaters died — is now suing the tournament organizer, accusing the organization of failing to protect boaters by not canceling or ending a fishing tournament due to incoming weather.

Mechanicsville resident Jason Downing’s federal lawsuit is seeking $10 million in damages from the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association after he was rescued from a capsized boat on Nov. 19, 2016. Downing was a participant in the association’s fall fishing tournament; it has denied any wrongdoing in the incident.

The lawsuit — filed in February — is another verse in a litany of issues for the Pasadena-based association, which revealed a major financial scandal that led to the removal of its former executive director.

“Read the lawsuit,” said Stuart Plotnick, Downing’s attorney. “Thank God our client survived.”

The Reel Intimidator was on the Potomac River returning from MSSA’s fall fishing tournament. The fishermen stopped early out of caution of incoming weather and began to their return to Combs Creek Marina, where the boat was originally docked, according to Downing’s lawsuit version of the events.

At about 5 p.m., the boat’s captain sent out a mayday signal after high winds and waves hit the boat. The waves overtook the boat, capsizing and sending all four men into freezing water, according to court records. Rescuers found Downing on the boat the next morning.

Three other men on the boat — Gregory Moore, William Edelen and Roger Grissom — died. Moore’s and Edelen’s bodies were found quickly, but it would be months before Grissom’s body was found. Moore owned the boat.

“Mr. Downing continues to suffer both physical and psychological trauma as a result of the subject incident, to include diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder and back injuries necessitating surgery, and other injuries from which he will never recover, and has suffered a loss of wages and wage-earning capacity,” according to the complaint. “Mr. Downing has suffered a loss of society and consortium.”

The tragic event set off many federal lawsuits as different family estates sorted out disputes following the deaths. A settlement was reached in that case, according to court records. The specifics of that settlement were not available. Boating accidents are federal cases since navigable waters in the United States are owned by the federal government.

Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association denies any wrongdoing and all allegations related to the November incident, according to court records. The association canceled the Nov. 20 tournament day due to inclement weather, but didn’t do so for Nov. 19.

The association’s lawyer said the events were out of the group’s control and the accident was an act of “God,” according to court records.

MSSA President Frank Holden did not respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit is yet another problem for the fishing association, which was rocked by a scandal after members found financial irregularities that led to the removal of former executive director Dave Smith. The missing money was reported to police. A total value has not been revealed.

The financial crimes unit is still investigating the incident with Smith as a suspect, police said. He has not been arrested or charged.

The scandal was revealed after boaters on an online forum began complaining they didn’t receive awards for MSSA’s 2017 fall fishing tournament.

In previous interviews, Holden said the organization was planning to continue its work but had to review their finances before doing so. Holden has never confirmed the MSSA didn’t pay out the awards and has declined to talk about the tournament in previous interviews.

Currently MSSA’s website and phone are disconnected. In February, The Capital visited the association’s Pasadena headquarters where a neighboring business owner said the office was still in use.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
70°