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Lack of prosecution does not stop wrongful death lawsuit

U.S. Attorneys have decided not to criminally prosecute a diving instructor who oversaw the death of a Missoula teenager last year. According to recent reports, prosecutors found that the instructor was likely at fault for the teen’s death to some extent, but they were unable to prove a crime was committed beyond a reasonable doubt.

A diving class turns to tragedy

In November of 2020, the 18-year-old victim signed up for a diving class with a Missoula dive shop. Although she had been diving before, the victim wanted to get her advanced open water certification. The dive shop trains students in Montana’s cold mountain lakes for this purpose.

The class was held at Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park and conducted by two instructors. According to a lawsuit filed by the victim’s family, the instructors did not provide the teen with the safety equipment she was supposed to have for such a dive. Nor did they train her properly to use the diving suit she had never worn before.

As a result, when she was taken to a depth of 60 feet for the first time, the victim began experiencing equipment issues she could not overcome. Unable to surface, she began frantically signaling for help. However, the instructors never looked at her. The only person who did come to her aid was another student. But despite his efforts, he was unable to repair the equipment issues either.

The victim sank further into the depths of the lake, faced with rising water pressure and a depleting air supply. The other student was forced to surface to seek help but, by the time the instructors arrived, it was too late. She had sunk to a depth of 127 feet and drowned due to a lack of air.

Despite the lack of criminal charges, the family continues to seek justice via their lawsuit. It alleges negligence, wrongful death and intentional infliction of emotional distress against the dive shop, its instructors and the diving association which oversees the sport.