TEQUESTA, Fla. — Investigators found evidence of child neglect in the disappearance of two teenage boaters, but the state did not file charges, according to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement report.
Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, both 14 and both from Tequesta, disappeared during a storm off Florida’s Atlantic coast in July 2015. Their capsized boat was found months later in the Bahamas by a Norwegian cargo ship.
Investigators found probable cause to charge at least one of the teens’ parents, but the state attorney said there was not enough proof “to satisfy the statutory language,” according to The Palm Beach Post (http://pbpo.st/2sJMGpS ), citing the report released late Friday.
The state opened a criminal investigation in December of Austin’s mother, Carly Black, for possible child neglect. Austin texted his mother after the boys’ vessel left a Tequesta marina and headed for the open ocean, shortly before a strong storm blew through the area.
According to the report, Black told investigators it was common for the boys to go fishing together, and she believed they were “the victims of a tragic mishap.”
Investigators said Black allowed the teens to “go offshore into the Atlantic Ocean, an inherently dangerous environment, in a minimally equipped 19-foot boat with a single outboard motor without adult or parental supervision,” and without a radio or an emergency beacon that could have been used to locate them.
According to the report, Perry’s parents told investigators their son was not allowed to go offshore without adult supervision, and both families knew this.
Black attempted to reach Austin after the storm began, but there was no response. She alerted other family members and friends before contacting Perry’s parents, who called 911.
Nicholas Korniloff, Perry’s stepfather, declined comment to the Post.
William Blu Stephanos, Austin’s father, said the family was grateful to investigators and all the agencies and volunteers that searched for the boys, but they would not comment on the report.
The state’s investigation showed “the egregious lapse in judgment and failure to exercise due care had the effect of culminating in the disappearance of both boys who are now believed to have perished,” the report said.
Assistant State Attorney Greg Kridos said there may have been poor judgment, but boating on the open seas was not an “inherently dangerous activity,” according to the report.
According to the FDLE report, the Gainesville firm Six Maritime conducted its own analysis of the search for the boys and concluded they likely remained together until they died off the Georgia coast.
The teens’ bodies were never found.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission concluded the boys disappeared due to “a weather-related incident,” according to a report cited by the Post.
Information from: The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, http://www.pbpost.com