JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A family of a man who drowned in April while on a training dive in the Trout River has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a troubled Jacksonville-based commercial diving school.
On April 14, Fausto Martins, 41, was pulled unresponsive from the murky water after his helmet filled with water. The student was taken from CDA Technical Institute’s Trout River campus on the city’s Northside to UF Health Jacksonville hospital, where he died.
The lawsuit alleges CDA was negligent by failing to properly inspect the diving equipment, by failing to properly maintain the diving equipment, by failing to properly train student divers in the use of the equipment and using unqualified student divers as stand-by rescue divers.
The suit seeks in excess of $30,000.
A.J. Hernandez, an attorney representing Martins’ family, told the News4JAX I-TEAM that the family is devastated about Martins’ death and is very concerned about safety at the school. Hernandez also said they are going to let the case play out in court.
This is the second wrongful death lawsuit filed against CDA in Duval County in about a month. The family of a 21-year-old man who drowned while diving last year at Ginnie Springs is also suing CDA, the I-TEAM reported May 23. Isaiah Johnson, from Tampa, graduated from CDA in August. The following month, he died on a graduation celebration trip.
According to police reports compiled by the I-TEAM, which has been investigating CDA since Martins’ death, five people connected to the school have died since 2019. In February, Victor Pierce, 34, drowned while training at Flamingo Lake. The I-TEAM also uncovered police reports showing a 31-year-old’s suicide in December and a 24-year-old’s fatal drug overdose in 2019.
Earlier this month, the president of the Association of Diving Contractors Inc. said CDA was no longer affiliated with his organization. That means the ADCI will no longer issue certifications for graduates. These certifications are necessary to get most jobs as a commercial diver in the United States and other countries.
Phil Newsum, executive director of ADCI, said he was trying to do an audit after two student divers died during school-sanctioned dives, however, CDA owner Ray Black chose to relinquish his membership in lieu of an audit, effective June 1.
Newsum told the I-TEAM on Tuesday that there are serious safety concerns, but he can’t pinpoint a problem without being able to inspect the equipment and training.
“You can’t eliminate and eradicate any type of hazards associated with diving period because diving is somewhat of a hazardous, you know, undertaking, but it’s one that you can mitigate out most, if not all, of the hazards if done properly, and you follow all of the requirements and you perform all of the risk assessments and everything else,” Newsum said. “And so this is very, very unusual. And I hope we never see anything like this again.”
Newsum said he has never seen a situation like this.
“In my entire time in this industry, and certainly not in the position that I hold now going up on my 17th year, I have never seen anything like this,” Newsum said. “Moreover, I hope this industry never sees anything like this again.”
Several people within the industry have told the I-TEAM that CDA’s owners are trying to sell the school — that hasn’t happened.
The I-TEAM has reached out to CDA leaders again and again for their side of the story, but they haven’t had any comment.