HONOLULU (CN) – A widow claims a tour company did not summon help for her husband who was injured on a guided tour by kayak; his body was found six days later.
Amie Soper says her husband Ryan died on a tour conducted by Kayak Wailua. She and her mother and young son also sued its owner, Peter Fisher, and tour guide Brian Kessell.
Soper says her family, from Utah, signed up for a Kayak Wailua river tour on Kauai in April 2010. She says they depended on the company’s assurance that “Our friendly experienced guides all know the river from top to bottom” and that it would provide an “experienced personable local guide certified in CPR and first aid.”
She says the defendants took her and her husband, along with her mother, brother and sister and others by van to the mouth of the Wailua River. There, across from Kayak Wailua owner Fisher’s home, Kessell launched the group in kayaks and led them 2 miles upstream, according to the federal complaint.
They left the kayaks on a riverbank and were given a tour with commentary on the flora, fauna and lore of the area. Then they hiked up a treacherous and muddy trail, covered with tree roots.
“Guests had been advised to wear ‘water socks’ or ‘reef runners,’ making the hike through the difficult terrain all the more challenging,” the complaint states.
After a mile hike, the group arrived at Uluwehi Falls, which fell 125 feet into the rushing river. It was nearly 4 p.m. and cloudy under the forest canopy. Kessell then began leading them back to their kayaks on a different route, the Sopers say.
“Less than a quarter of a mile from the waterfall, defendant Brian Kessell and the guests encountered a tree which was draped in vines,” the complaint states. “The vines were thick, described by defendant Kessell to all the guests as ‘vines like Tarzan vines in the jungle.’ Defendant Kessell then climbed and swung on the vines, swinging on them like a monkey, and encouraged the tour guests to do the same.”
Amie Soper says her husband climbed the vine, as Kessell suggested, but slipped and fell on his mother-in-law, “landing on her ankle, then hitting his head on a rock.”
The fall broke Tibbitts’ ankle, and left Ryan Soper with a bloody head and cuts, his wife says.
She says Kessell dug an Ace bandage from his fanny pack. Another tour group arrived with instant ice packs, but Soper says no one knew how to activate the packs. She says that while Kessell, who had no cell phone service and no two-way radio, tended to Tibbitts’ ankle, “Ryan Soper walked away from the group.”
She says that “by then, it was well after 4:00 pm, and it was already getting dark and cold.”
She says Kessell ran back to the kayaks, “looking for Ryan and to get cell reception.” She says Kessell did not find her husband, but did get in touch with Fisher, yet “failed to mention anything about Ryan Soper’s fall.”
She adds: “Kessell failed to ask for a search party, he failed to ask for the police or fire department to be contacted and he failed to ask for emergency equipment of any kind, even a flashlight.” Fisher also failed to request such things, she says.
“Defendant Brian Kessell then rejoined plaintiff Vicki Tibbitts and the rest of the group, and informed plaintiff Vicki Tibbitts that there was no way that any emergency personnel could help them and that they were on their own,” according to the complaint.
Tibbitts hiked a mile out of the jungle, with assistance from her family, who say that Kessell then had them kayak 2 miles back, against the wind, though there was a nearby area that was accessible by car.
Amie and Kessell searched for Ryan in the darkness, and “a few hours passed before flashlights and defendant Peter Fisher arrived to assist in the search,” the Sopers say. They say no one from the tour company called police or any other rescue agency until after 9 p.m. that day.
Ryan Soper’s body was found 6 days later, on April 21, 2010, “in mid stages of decomposition. Time of death was estimated to have been either on April 15 or April 16,” the family says.
The family seeks punitive damages for wrongful death, negligence, gross negligence and negligent misrepresentation. They are represented by Ted Pettit with Case Lombardi & Pettit.