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Family Of Child Killed During Whale Tour Claims Negligence

Attorney Releases Video Of Accident

POSTED: 9:03 pm HST December 29, 2003 | UPDATED: 9:12 am HST December 30, 2003

HONOLULU -- A lawyer representing the family of a little boy who died in a whale watching accident released a videotape of the accident Monday. The lawyer said it shows negligence by the captain of the boat the American Dream.

Ryker HamiltonThe whale-watching company has said its captain acted safely, but everyone involved admits there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. A tourist from Georgia shot home video of the Christmas Day whale-watching tour. The whale surfaced to the port, or left, side of the boat. The boat appears to keep going full ahead for just under 10 seconds before it appears to hit the whale. Ryker Hamilton, 3, was knocked unconscious in the crash, when he and his father fell. Ryker later died. The family's lawyer said you can hear the panicked pleas of Ryker's mother, Renee Hamilton, as she asked people to get out of the way. "Please move. Please move. Please move. Oh my God! (Screams)," Renee Hamilton said on the tape.

Another passenger snapped a still photo of the whale hitting the boat. "There was really rather severe negligence, not just ordinary negligence on the part of the captain," the Hamiltons' attorney Mike Fried said.

Federal law requires boat captains to stop if they come within 100 yards of a whale, but Fried said the captain failed to do that. "From the time the whale was spotted until the impact, there was absolutely no maneuver by the ship to avoid the whale, nor any decrease in speed," Fried said. He also disputes the company's claim that the whale appeared suddenly; saying 15 witnesses he interviewed said the whale could be seen about three football fields away. "A number of people who I've spoken to said quite a ways out. ''We're going to hit the whale. We're going to hit this whale.' So it didn't just come up suddenly. The whale was there to be seen," Fried said. "If a pod comes up, then they have to take evasive maneuvers to create that 100-yard barrier that buffer," Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Todd Offutt said.

Fried claims that the captain was distracted and may have dropped a microphone just before the crash. "He had dropped something and wasn't even looking forward at the time of the impact and there was no change in speed until after the impact," Fried said. The Coast Guard refused to answer specific questions about witnesses' statements, saying that could jeopardize its investigation. "Experience shows us that pursuit of the facts and evidence versus a rush to judgment is the only way to get to the truth," Offutt said. Michael Watson is president of Dream Cruises, the company that owns the whale-watching boat.

"I think that any press conference and any statements from that would be self-serving on the part of the attorney. And frankly, our take on this is that we're cooperating with the Coast Guard fully in their investigation. They've issued a preliminary judgment that indicated that there's been no wrongdoing on our part," Watson said. Watson refused to comment on specifics of the case, saying he's waiting for the outcome of the Coast Guard probe, which could take a month to six weeks to complete. In the meantime, Ryker Hamilton's grandparents and parents plan to leave Hawaii Tuesday for Virginia, where he will be buried.