— As Lisa Gaines clung to a floating chair after a yacht capsized off the coast of Long Island on July 4, she desperately called out in the darkness to her missing young daughter.
Her 12-year-old son, Ryan, had grabbed her after the 34-foot yacht overturned as it headed to shore and scattered its 27 passengers. Now she was trying to locate 7-year-old Victoria.
“I couldn’t see anything,’’ an emotional Gaines recalled on TODAY Friday in an interview with her husband and the family’s attorney.
“I was just screaming her name to see if she came up because I know she was below us. I was screaming her name just to see if anybody would yell out that they had her. I don’t remember too much.’’
Victoria Gaines, David Auerliano, 12, and his cousin, Harlie Treanor, 11, all died in the accident, while the other 24 passengers were rescued by other boaters in the vicinity. The three children were playing cards in the boat’s cabin when it went down and were trapped. The boat’s captain is Auerliano’s uncle, and the boat’s owner is Treanor’s father, both of whom are friends of the Gaines family. Earlier this week, three emotional funeral services were held for the children.
The Nassau County Police Department and the FBI are investigating the incident and no criminal charges have been filed. Divers recovered the yacht on Thursday after two days of fighting strong winds and dark waters, and investigators hope the boat will provide answers to what caused the accident. They are investigating whether overcrowding, weather conditions or a mechanical malfunction may have caused the boat to capsize.
The Gaines family is hoping to prevent future tragedies by introducing “Victoria’s Law,’’ which would require boat owners to be licensed and undergo continuing education. New York State does not currently license boat owners, only requiring a boating safety course.
“I woke up the other morning and it just hit me very hard that my daughter is no longer with us,’’ said Paul Gaines, who was not on the boat that night. “I hate the thought of her loss of life not benefiting anybody in the future so I can’t stand the thought of something like this happening again when it’s completely avoidable on multiple levels.’’
There were 17 adults and 10 children on the “Kandi Won” when it set out for a good view of the fireworks in Oyster Bay off Long Island on July 4. The manufacturer recommends a 10-person capacity for the 34-foot vessel, but no laws require boat owners not to exceed the recommended capacity. The attorney for the boat’s owner, Kevin Treanor, told NBC News there were enough lifejackets on board and the boat was not overcrowded.
Treanor’s attorney released the following statement to NBC News: “Family and close friends boarded the Kandi Won in Huntington NY for a trip to Oyster Bay to celebrate the 4th of July. The one-hour voyage was a pleasant boat ride without incident. On the way home, tragedy struck and took everyone by surprise. There was no alcohol or speed involved. The vessel was well equipped. Mr. Treanor is grieving the loss of his daughter Harlie and close family friends David Aureliano and Victoria Gaines. His thoughts and prayers are with the families of David and Victoria. In addition to this horrific and heartbreaking loss, the Treanor family is distraught over the pending criminal investigation that continues after this tragic accident.”
An investigation into the capsizing is underway. “Homicide squad is very anxiously awaiting to take a look at that vessel as they would if there was an automobile crash or an industrial accident or any type of an incident that might cause the death of someone,’’ Nassau County Police Chief Steve Skrynecki told reporters.
During the trip, Lisa Gaines said she remembered her daughter and Auerliano wearing life jackets, but didn’t recall anyone else wearing one. She also did not see where the lifejackets were located. Victoria was in the cabin because her mother said “we felt it was the safest place.’’
There was no warning before the boat capsized and sent its passengers tumbling into the ocean.
“It was very fast,’’ Lisa said. “The boat started to lean and it didn’t recover, and it just went over. I don’t know if we slid off or fell off. I don’t remember.’’
Once in the water, Lisa Gaines was helped to safety by her son.
“I was going under,’’ she said. “I don’t swim so he grabbed me. I heard, ‘I got you mom,’ and I grabbed on to him and he helped me swim to a chair that was floating before people got us out.’’
Paul Gaines received a phone call from a local fire department at approximately 11:30 p.m. that night informing him that his wife and son were fine, but his daughter was still missing. He eventually arrived at the yacht club at 3:30 a.m.
“At that point I was frantically trying to find my children and trying to get to them,’’ he said. “Nassau County police had me running all over the place to different hospitals. I was calling every hospital possible trying to search for my daughter.’’
Gaines family attorney Michael Della declined to discuss whether the family was going to file a civil lawsuit against the boat operator and the owner in the wake of the tragedy.
“With regard to a civil lawsuit, that’s the furthest thing from this family’s minds at this point in time,’’ Della said. “Their mission right now is ‘Victoria’s Law.’’’
“I think it’s very unlikely that criminal charges will be filed in this case,’’ civil litigator John Q. Kelly told NBC News. “It looks like it was an unfortunate accident that things may have been done wrong, but nothing that was reckless or deliberate.’’