By Melissa E. Holsman
Roger J. Nicosia Jr.
STUART — A Martin County judge Tuesday will determine whether a Martin Memorial emergency room physician violated Coast Guard navigational rules when his boat’s propeller in 2009 struck Palm Beach Gardens diver Rob Murphy, whose legs were severed below the knee as a result.
Roger Nicosia, 58, is expected to appear before Martin County Judge Kathleen Roberts for a non-jury trial to face a second-degree misdemeanor charge of violating navigational rules stemming from a Jan. 9, 2009 boating incident that occurred in the Atlantic Ocean four and a half miles northeast of the St. Lucie Inlet.
Nicosia faces a criminal offense because under state law, if a boater violates a navigational rule that causes an injury, the operator can face a second-degree misdemeanor. If convicted, he faces up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine,
Nicosia’s Sewall’s Point attorney Bob Watson insisted his client did nothing wrong, and expects him to testify at his one-day trial.
“He is completely and totally innocent; there is no violation of any statute and there was clearly no ill intent,” Watson said. “This is a billion-to-one random chance that couldn’t be more unfortunate for everyone involved.”
That’s not how Murphy sees it. He insisted he wants to hear Nicosia explain his actions that day and how he missed seeing their dive flag.
“He admitted seeing us from far away, yet proceeding straight at us for no other reason than we were in his way,” Murphy recalled by phone Monday. “We were five miles off shore in the middle of nowhere with no other boats in sight and yet, he couldn’t go around us, he had to come straight at us.”
Authorities with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which conducted a year-long investigation into the incident, concluded that Nicosia violated five navigational rules governing responsibility, look-out, safe speed, risk of collision and action to avoid collision.
FWCC officials also found that Jon Newman, the owner and operator of the dive boat, violated the navigational rule of responsibility but he was not charged with a crime.
According to the FWCC investigation, Murphy and other divers were spear fishing when Nicosia’s 36-foot Master Plan, passed through the area cruising at 25-knots toward the Inlet. When Nicosia saw the 41-foot dive boat Dykoke, he couldn’t tell whether the boat was in distress, so he took his vessel off auto-pilot and moved in for a closer look.
That’s when he saw the dive boat power up and turn around, the FWCC reported.
It was also the exact time three divers, including Murphy, were surfacing. Newman tried to “maneuver his vessel to protect his divers from the oncoming vessel,” the FWCC reported, “but was unable to do so, and yelled to his scuba divers to get down.”
The divers tried to swim out of the path of Nicosia’s boat but it had changed course to avoid hitting the dive boat, reports show, putting it in the line of the divers.
“The victim then tried to dive down to avoid being struck,” investigators noted, but he was struck by the boat’s propellers.
At the time, Nicosia’s boat had the right-of-way, his attorney Watson insisted. He saw no dive buoy in the water and a dive flag on the “Dykoke” was improperly displayed, added Watson, which prevented his client from seeing it until it was too late.
“I am completely sympathetic with this man’s injuries,” Watson said. “By the same token, it’s misplaced to think that Roger Nicosia would try to hurt anyone, much less a diver.”
Meanwhile, Murphy, who was a recruiter for the health-care industry prior to the accident, had been diving again with the help of prosthetics but he’s back in a wheelchair following three surgeries since May.
“I’m pretty much back to square-one,” he said. “And I’m going to have to learn to walk all over again.”
The area’s dive community, he said, has been anticipating this trial.
“People need to feel safe out there,” he said. “People need to feel like if someone runs them down in open waters that they will be protected and that the person will see consequences for those actions.”
Tags: court, diving, medical