A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed in Cuyahoga County by the mother of a 19-year-old former high school volleyball standout from Akron.
Emma Nahas drowned in 2010 in what investigators called an alcohol-fueled drinking party during an excursion on a 48-foot sporting yacht on Lake Erie.
Alex J. Cucu, 38, of Willoughby, who was the boat operator, and a Rocky River man who was with Nahas in the water when they drifted away from the boat after going for a swim, were named as the principal defendants.
The suit was filed by attorneys for Nahas’ mother, Tracy Holmes Super of Elyria, on June 29 in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.
It contends Cucu and co-defendant John Slyman were negligent and had reckless disregard for the safety of Nahas and other underage women on the boat by becoming “increasingly intoxicated” and, thus, “unable to reasonably operate the yacht” in a safe manner.
Timothy R. Cleary, one of the attorneys for Nahas’ mother, said in an interview Tuesday that Cucu and Slyman “were so intoxicated, when the Coast Guard arrived they wouldn’t allow either of those individuals to continue to operate the boat and literally took the boat into their possession and operated it back to the docks.”
The suit asks for compensatory damages, to be determined at trial but starting at $25,000, punitive damages to be determined at trial and attorney fees and costs of bringing the action.
Nahas, who attended Our Lady of the Elms High School in Akron, was with six female friends, five of whom (including Nahas) were under the state’s legal drinking age of 21, when she and Slyman jumped into the water without life jackets early in the evening of July 8, 2010.
Eleven days later, the body of Nahas washed ashore in Euclid.
“Without a personal flotation device and unable to get back to the unanchored and rapidly drifting [boat], Emma Nahas was left to drown,” the suit says.
Several members of the party group jumped into the lake with a life jacket in an effort to rescue Slyman, and when Coast Guard officials arrived, the suit says, “Slyman was pulled out of the water naked.”
Autopsy records released by the Cuyahoga County coroner in August 2010 stated that everyone on the boat when Nahas disappeared “had been drinking booze heavily.”
Cuyahoga County prosecutors, however, declined to file any felony charges against Cucu.
When his case wound up in Cleveland Municipal Court, on 11 misdemeanor counts of furnishing alcohol to an underage person and providing a place for an underage person to drink, Cucu was found not guilty of all charges.
Cucu’s attorney in the criminal case, Terry H. Gilbert of Cleveland, called the wrongful death suit “ridiculous.”
“It’s ridiculous, because the jury heard all the evidence in the criminal case for a week and they found him not guilty,” Gilbert said. “Of everything.”
He called it “a tragic situation, but basically these girls were partying on their own, holding themselves out to be over 21, and [Nahas] just jumped in and went for a swim. It had nothing to do with [Cucu].”
Cucu also faced a potential maximum civil fine of $7,000, but after a hearing by U.S. Coast Guard officials in Arlington, Va., in January 2011, the fine was reduced to $5,000 for operating his vessel under the influence of alcohol, court records show.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.