The family of a man who was among three who died in May 2014 when a motorboat sank in Lake Michigan near Chicago has sued the boat-sharing and rental service business the family contends was responsible for the boat’s maintenance in the days before it took on water and ultimately went down.
On Sept. 28, Tamara Sopka, sister of Orest Sopka, filed a wrongful death complaint in Cook County Circuit Court against Creative Yacht Management Inc., a company which does business as SailTime Chicago, a Crystal Lake-based boat-sharing club which advertises it offers members boating instruction and “access to a luxury yacht without the usual expenses and long-term commitment.”
The complaint centers on the May 31, 2014, boating accident that claimed the lives of Sopka, 30, and two other passengers, Ashley Haws, 26, and Megan Blenner, 26, who had been among four passengers aboard a motorboat that sank near Chicago.
According to the complaint and reports published by various Chicago news outlets following the incident, the boaters were sailing from New Buffalo, Mich., back to Chicago aboard the Axess, a 33-foot Rinker motorboat.
According to public records, the boat’s listed owner was Axess Holding Company LLC, a corporate entity under the management of Orest Sopka.
The complaint and the published reports indicated Orest Sopka had become a member of the SailTime club, and had agreed to allow the Axess to be rented by others through the program when he was not using it himself. As part of the program, Sail Time agreed to oversee maintenance and care of the boat, the complaint asserted.
According to the complaint and published news reports, the boat’s engine encountered a mechanical problem while nearing Chicago, causing the engine to catch fire and the boat’s bilge pump to fail. The craft took on water.
Published reports indicated the boat’s radio was not working, and the craft was too far out from shore to obtain cell phone service to call for help. The reports indicated the passengers also fired flares, but no one on shore responded.
The lone survivor was found floating in the lake by a fisherman the next morning. The bodies of those who perished in the incident were eventually recovered from the lake from May 31-July 28, 2014. The boat was found about seven miles from Adler Planetarium in late September 2014.
According to the complaint, the blame for the boat’s purported mechanical and other failures should lay with SailTime and its corporate parent company.
The complaint alleged SailTime was negligent, as it allegedly failed to equip, maintain, repair and keep the craft and its safety equipment “in a fit and seaworthy condition,” allowed repair work to be done by “non-certified dealers and technicians,” and allowed the boat to “be operated when it was not safe.”
The complaint also levels allegations against Skyway Yacht Works, a Chicago-based company offering various boating-related services, including boat storage, maintenance and repair. According to the complaint, SailTime had contracted with Skyway to maintain boats SailTime used in its program, including the Axess.
The complaint includes two counts of negligence and wrongful death against both Creative Yacht Management and Skyway Yacht Works.
Sopka’s family seeks damages of more than $50,000 against both SailTime, through Creative Yacht Management, and Skyway.
Sopka’s family is represented in the action by the firm of Cooney & Conway, of Chicago.