DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The families of the three Howard County men who died in a 1998 spring break brawl in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., will share a $300,000 settlement of their lawsuits against a condominium.
The lone survivor, Seth Qubeck, and the families of murder victims Kevans Hall and Matthew Wichita, will split the settlement - being paid by an insurance company - rather than pursue a trial in their separate lawsuits against the Ocean Palms Beach Club. The Maryland victims agreed to the settlement at a mediation session Sept. 26.
"We felt like going through years and years of this wouldn't benefit anyone and that we were better off to put it all behind us," Suzanne Smallzman, Qubeck's mother, said yesterday. "It would have been a long battle."
In 1998, Hall, Wichita and Qubeck, all of Columbia, visited New Smyrna Beach for their spring break vacation but became entangled in an April 16 fight with local teen-ager Joshua Trull and his friends.
In retaliation, Trull returned with his two older brothers and four others that evening, according to court records. Wichita and Hall were killed, while Qubeck survived 17 stab wounds.
All seven Volusia County men were convicted for their roles in the attack, though only Jonathan Trull, the oldest of the three brothers, was convicted of murder in the deaths of Wichita and Hall. Jonathan Trull was sentenced to life in prison. Joshua Trull was convicted of aggravated assault and aggravated battery and sentenced to 15 years in prison; Christopher Trull was found guilty of aggravated assault and was sentenced to less than five years in prison.
Qubeck and the families of Hall and Wichita sued Ocean Palms for negligence, alleging that there should have had better security at the beachfront condominium and that trespassers should have been kept off the property.
Florida attorney Bob Moletteire, who represented the Qubeck and Wichita families, said the condominium had a policy with Arizona-based Scottsdale Insurance Co. that would pay a claim of up to $300,000.
Moletteire said it would have been unlikely that the families could get any more than that because of Ocean Palms' financial woes. Federal court records show it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection about three months before the slayings. Ocean Palms owed more than $750,000 in claims, according to court records. The corporation was reorganized in May 1999, closing the bankruptcy case.
"Even if we had a million-dollar jury award, we'd only collect on the insurance money," Moletteire said.
Neither attorney Richards Ford, who represents Ocean Palms, and timeshare manager J.P. Tack could be reached yesterday for comment.
Ludmilla Lelis is a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.