Alleged by Widow of Leesburg
Resident John Mark Slappey
$25M LAWSUIT FILED
By Kevin Hogencamp
The widow of Leesburg resident John Mark Slappey says in a $25 million lawsuit that her husband’s December 2009 death during a duck-hunting expedition on Lake Seminole was caused by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ negligence.
Amanda “Mandy” DeLoach Slappey filed the suit last week in U.S. District Court, claiming that the Corps of Engineers failed to implement and maintain safety measures at Jim Woodruff Dam in compliance with federal laws and regulations.
Specifically, the Corps of Engineers haphazardly opened a spillway without notifying Slappey while he was hunting, causing his drowning death; did not post proper signage warning hunters and others of dangers; failed to repair a broken drowning-prevention device at the dam; and violated regulations by allowing a worker to use a rotted life preserver during the rescue attempt, Mandy Slappey says in the lawsuit.
Mandy Slappey received notice in January 2011 that the Department of Army had denied her claim for damages, prompting the lawsuit. She filed the claim on behalf of herself and the couple’s young daughter, who was born in 2008. She is seeking damages for expenses the family has incurred, pain and suffering, and “for the full value of the life of their decedent, loss of support, services, society and companionship, and lost earnings …”
John Mark Slappey’s death occurred near the Georgia-Florida line where a dam was constructed in 1957 at the Apalachicola River and Lake Seminole to generate hydroelectric power. Slappey remained missing after the Dec. 20 disappearance until his body was found on Jan. 24, 2010.
The suit claims that Slappey was on a U.S. Coast Guard-approved flotation device more than 800 yards from the dam when the Corps opened the spillway gates, causing a “swift, hazardous and powerful current, subsurface current and/or undercurrent in the area of the lake where John Mark Slappey was duck hunting”, the suit says.
The Corps action “presented a danger to John Mark Slappey, and to his life and health, but he did not know, nor could he have known of this grave and immediate danger,” the suit says.
The suit says that the Corps had posted a sign that read “DANGER STAY 800 FET FROM DAM, but that sign was nearly invisible from 800 feet away” and violated the Corps’ published safety signage regulations.
“Once the spillway gates were opened, which caused and created a swift, hazardous and powerful current, subsurface current and/or undercurrent, John Mark Slappey was helpless to escape the current and obey the sign, i.e. to stay 800 feet from the dam, even if he could have read it from beyond 800 feet,” the suit says.
Further, for the purpose of protecting people from being sucked through one of the open spillway gates and drowning, the Corps had a buoy and cable line restraining device just north of the dam consisting of buoys and cable lines, but the device was broken, the lawsuit claims.
Also, when a worker at the dam threw Slappey a life preserver, the rescue attempt failed because the preserver “was rotten and in such a state of disrepair that it broke into pieces when John Mark Slappey grabbed onto it,” the suit claims.
Mandy Slappey is represented by Albany attorneys W. Earl McCall and Alex J. Kaplan of the laws firm McCall Williams LLC. The Corps of Engineers has not yet filed a response to the July 18 complaint.