Lawsuit alleges dive boat backed over woman off Palm Beach, fatally slicing legs


ABC Palm Beach

A dive operator using a larger, two-engine boat for the third time backed over a client’s legs off Palm Beach, and the Space Coast woman bled to death before she could get to help, her widower contends in a new lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed Friday in U.S. District Court by Sean Flynn of Melbourne in the March 29 death of his wife, Mollie Ghiz-Flynn, 37.

It names Florida Scuba Charters and owners Dustin and Kristy McCabe, as well as Safe Harbor North Palm Beach, the corporate parent of the North Palm Beach marina. Efforts to reach the McCabes for comment were unsuccessful.

According to the lawsuit, the incident occurred March 29 as the dive boat was about 1½ miles southeast of the Palm Beach Inlet at a popular diving spot called Breakers Reef, just off the coast from the Palm Beach hotel for which it’s named.

As Ghiz-Flynn and her husband finished their first dive, they were waved over to the boat. But, the suit alleges, McCabe put the engines in reverse, and both divers were sucked under, with Ghiz-Flynn becoming entangled in the props.

Sean Flynn struggled to free his wife, and a fellow diver and a crew member jumped into the water. Eventually all were able to pull Ghiz-Flynn free and bring her onto the boat. Flynn “watched in horror the futile efforts to save his wife,” Miami lawyer Carol L. Finklehoffe wrote in the lawsuit.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said at the time of the incident that the U.S. Coast Guard brought the boat into the Riviera Beach Marina, where Riviera Beach Fire-Rescue met it and declared the woman dead. The agency said no other divers were hurt.

A Palm Beach County Medical Examiner’s Office report later concluded Ghiz-Flynn died of drowning and “chop wounds.” The report said investigators were told the boat was in rough current and a wave lifted it and pushed her underneath.

“By the time the divers freed her, she was brought on board, unresponsive. She was no longer wearing her mask or regulator/snorkel,” the Medical Examiner’s Office report said. “She was not bleeding from her wounds.”

The report said Ghiz-Flynn’s wet suit was torn – pieces were found wrapped around the propeller – and her legs had numerous cuts, as well as at least one compound fracture.

The Medical Examiner’s report did say Ghiz-Flynn tested positive for amphetamines and marijuana. Her lawyers said she was taking medical marijuana to cope with anxiety and the amphetamine was a weight-loss drug. They contend those drugs did not play a role in her death.

The lawsuit provides details of the incident so far not yet provided by FWC, which has said its investigation remains open. At the time of the incident, people identified as having been on the dive either would not talk to The Post or could not be reached.

According to the lawsuit, March 29 marked only the second day, and just the third time, that Florida Scuba had operated the 32-year-old, 48-foot, twin-engine boat Southern Comfort, which McCabe recently had bought to replace a 30-foot boat.

In two dives on March 28, the lawsuit says, McCabe had mechanical trouble and, because he was new to the boat, had difficulty maneuvering it.

It said one diver was pulled under the boat toward the propellers, but escaped injury, and another “only managed to escape with her life” by jamming her speargun into the props and pushing herself away. It doesn’t elaborate on her injuries or say if the other diver was hurt.

The lawsuit says McCabe had to use a rope to retrieve the divers and that he had so much trouble maneuvering to the gasoline dock at the North Palm Beach marina that the boat ran aground, damaging the rudder.

Divers who “experienced the horrors and problems” from the March 28 dive “begged” Florida Scuba not to use the boat again until it was repaired and McCabe was better able to handle it, the suit alleges. Instead, it says, McCabe went back out the next day, March 29. His dive group of eight included the Melbourne couple.

The lawsuit did say McCabe told the group that divers had been sucked under the boat the previous day and they should return to the boat by the center of the stern.

On July 27, a man who answered the phone at Florida Scuba Charters, asked by The Palm Beach Post if he was Dustin McCabe, hung up. The lawsuit, and online review pages, suggest that the company no longer is operating.

The lawsuit names North Palm Beach Marina because, at the time of the incident, a ban on dive boats was in place as part of the lockdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic. The suit says the marina should not have facilitated the dive.

The marina’s general manager, Josh Stieb, said Friday he had not yet seen the lawsuit and so could not comment.

Stieb told The Post shortly after the incident that some dive operators were able to cite an exemption for commercial fishermen, because their divers also caught fish and they had state licenses for that. He said at the time he was familiar with Florida Scuba Charters only in passing.

Sean Flynn said July 30 that he and his wife had been married for three years. He said the two were managers of a Melbourne-area landscaping supply store.

Flynn, 41, said he’d dived since he was 18 and that his wife had picked up the avocation about four years earlier.

Asked why the couple came down to North Palm Beach, about 100 miles from their home, he said Ghiz-Flynn “was a creature of habit.” She said McCabe had been captain of the boat she was on when she was certified.

Flynn said he didn’t want to tell the story of his wife’s death again, both because of the pending suit and because it was just too emotional.

He did say: “She had the biggest heart of anybody I ever met. She would do anything for anybody if she could.”