Lawsuit claims negligence in Lake Marie fatality

Posted6/19/2010 12:01 AM

Speeding and carelessness are among the accusations contained in a lawsuit against a boater who police say caused a crash that killed an Antioch man riding a personal watercraft on the Chain O' Lakes last month.

Russell Neeleman Jr., 28, was killed in the collision about 6:35 p.m. May 23 on Lake Marie in Antioch Township. Authorities said Arkadiy Starobin, 70, of Skokie, was piloting an open-bow pleasure boat when he struck Neeleman.

Attorney Robert Goshgarian filed the negligence lawsuit against Starobin last week, seeking more than $50,000 in damages on behalf of Neeleman's parents. Goshgarian said the fatal crash could have been avoided.

"People were yelling at (Starobin) to slow down," Goshgarian said Friday. "It's a horrible, horrible tragedy."

Starobin, who was not charged after the crash, did not return a message seeking comment.

However, in a Lake County sheriff's police report obtained by Goshgarian for the lawsuit, Starobin said he never saw Neeleman and was traveling about 30 mph on Lake Marie.

"As soon as I realized I hit someone, I turned around and went back to help," the report quoted Starobin as saying. "I was driving the boat."

Sheriff's police said Neeleman was riding his 2004 Yamaha personal watercraft when he was hit by Starobin's 24-foot Azure westbound on Lake Marie. Starobin was turning left when the incident happened, according to authorities.

Two witnesses quoted in police reports stated they yelled for Starobin to slow down on the water. A 25-year-old woman said she and her friends were anchored just outside a no-wake area "as a yellow boat came flying past," with Starobin at the wheel, the reports stated.

In the lawsuit, it's alleged Starobin did not keep a proper lookout or undergo appropriate training to operate a 24-foot boat. The suit also contends Starobin drove his vessel "in a careless and heedless manner" and did not reduce his speed to avoid the collision.

"Why this man did not see Russell is just shocking," Goshgarian said.

Neeleman was on an orange-and-black watercraft when he was struck. He was a highly experienced personal watercraft operator who regularly participated in competitions, Goshgarian said.

Starobin's 61-year-old wife and a 22-year-old daughter were on the boat with him when the fatal wreck occurred. He has about 13 years of boating experience, according to a police report.

"No formal instruction, but I have read a lot of books," Starobin was quoted as telling authorities. "I had a Bayliner for six years and this (24-foot) boat for three years."