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Victim’s family files lawsuit in Key West racing death

Two years after three powerboat racers were killed in the Key West World Championship, the family of one of the victims filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Broward Circuit Court.

William Tillman, uncle and personal representative of the estate of Big Thunder driver Jeffrey “JT” Tillman of Missouri, sued Super Boat International Productions president John Carbonell and five members of his medical, safety and inspection team, alleging that their “gross negligence” was responsible for the death. The filing came Nov.?7 during the 2013 world championship, which concluded Sunday, according to the Miami Herald.

Jeffrey Tillman, 46, drowned along with owner/throttleman Bob Morgan, 74, in November 2011 after their four-engine catamaran flipped backward and landed upside down in Key West Harbor during the first race of the series.

The lawsuit, filed by Fort Lauderdale lawyer William Scherer, accuses Carbonell and his medical and safety staff of a slow and poorly coordinated rescue effort that left Tillman trapped underwater in the wreckage for nine minutes before he was recovered.

The suit alleges that rescuers wrongly assumed Tillman had been killed by blunt trauma in the crash and didn’t hustle to extricate him. The suit also faults chief race inspector William Livingston for allowing Big Thunder to compete even though the boat lacked safety features such as a reinforced cockpit and through-hull escape hatch that might have prevented the deaths.

Three days after Morgan and Tillman died, racer Joey Gratton of University Park, Fla., drowned after his boat flipped over in a turn, trapping him inside. His crewmate escaped with minor injuries.

Gratton’s widow, Priscilla, sued race organizers in 2012, also in Broward Circuit Court. Her lawyer, Michael Allweiss, said he expects the case to go to trial in February.

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