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Northwest boatbuilder avoids manslaughter charges

Prosecutors declined to file charges against a King County, Wash., man who police believe knowingly sold an unsafe boat that capsized on Lake Stevens two years ago, killing a woman.

Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Ed Stemler said Tuesday that there was not enough evidence to prove that the boatbuilder was criminally liable, The (Everett) Herald newspaper reported.

The Snohomish County sheriff's detective who investigated the Lake Stevens capsizing believes that Philip Warnock, 67, showed criminal negligence when he built and sold the boat. That's why investigators asked prosecutors to consider filing a second-degree manslaughter charge.

Warnock did not respond to repeated interview requests from The Herald.

Police alleged that Warnock knowingly sold a Lake Stevens family a boat made with a cheap kind of foam not approved for marine use. Instead of repelling water, the foam acted like a sponge. The boat was full of people on July 11, 2009, when a wave swamped the bow. The foam became saturated and the boat sank in two minutes.

Killed was Cindy Tate, 48, a businesswoman who was active in the Lake Stevens community.

Warnock served time in state prison in the 1990s for fraud. In the years since, he has been the focus of several civil actions related to business practices, records show.

As recently as 2008, the state Attorney General's Office was fielding consumer complaints against Warnock, according to the newspaper. The cases against Warnock go back almost 30 years, said Dave Huey, senior counsel with the office's Consumer Protection Division.

Most of the complaints have involved Warnock allegedly taking money for boats he did not deliver or taking in boats for repairs and not returning the vessels, Huey said.

In 2002, Huey's office sought a temporary restraining order to ban Warnock from a boat show in Tacoma. They had received multiple consumer complaints about Warnock reportedly not delivering boats or finishing boat repairs after collecting payment.

State lawyers eventually signed an agreement with Warnock, who promised to change his practices.

Warnock has as many as a dozen businesses in Washington, most of them involved in the marine industry, records show. He recently told detectives that he is building boats in the United States and selling them in Canada.

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