Girl, 15, died during speedboat ride when ‘negligent’ skipper hit metal buoy


Emily Lewis, 15, was killed in a speedboat accident after the skipper crashed head-first into metal buoy (Picture: PA)

A 15-year-old girl was killed during an ‘adrenaline-fuelled’ speedboat ride after the skipper failed to pay attention and crashed head-first into a metal buoy at over 40mph, a court has heard.

Emily Lewis sustained ‘unsurvivable’ injuries when the rigid inflatable boat (RIB) she was riding in hit a buoy at 36.8 knots in Southampton Water on August 22, 2020.

A number of other passengers were seriously injured during the crash.

Skipper Michael Lawrence, 55, was described as an ‘extremely experienced mariner’ who took risks by ‘failing to pay attention’ as he performed stunts during what was advertised as a ‘high thrills’ ride.

He has denied charges of manslaughter by gross negligence during a hearing at Winchester Crown Court.

Michael Howley, 52, the owner of Seadogz, the company which operated the boat trip, has also been accused of not operating the boat safely.

Christine Agnew KC, prosecuting, told the court that Emily’s parents, Simon and Nikki Lewis, had decided to take their daughters for the speedboat ride.

‘This was to be a high-thrills ride. Tragically it was both a high-thrills and ultimately an extremely dangerous ride, which ended with the death of Emily,’ the barrister said.

Skipper Michael Lawrence crashed into the buoy after driving directly at it for over 14 seconds at speeds of over 40mph (Picture: PA)

‘She died from internal injuries she sustained by being crushed against the metal handle immediately in front of her, when the boat crashed head on into a metal buoy which Michael Lawrence appears not to have seen.

‘Perhaps because he wasn’t paying attention and was distracted, or because he was planning to take a sharp turn around it, and because he wasn’t paying close enough attention, he miscalculated the turn.

‘In either event the prosecution say that his actions that day fell far below those of a competent skipper,’ she added.

Lawrence, who took a selfie on board the boat earlier that morning, initially blamed the accident on his Covid face mask being blown up by the wind and covering his eyes.

However, after mobile phone footage emerged which contradicted his claims, he ‘changed his story’ and claimed to have had a momentary loss of vision after experiencing some form of blackout, the jury was told.

‘Perhaps he began to appreciate that his explanation about the mask did not provide a credible explanation for why he drove straight at the buoy for as long as he did, at least 10 seconds,’ Ms Agnew said.

Michael Howley, 51, is facing charges of failing to ensure the safe operation of the boat (Picture: PA)

She continued: ‘Amy Lewis broke her arm in the collision and passed out. When she regained consciousness, she saw the handlebar in front of Emily had gone straight into her stomach.

‘Emily told her family she was scared and could not breathe as her lips turned blue, but instead of helping her Lawrence simply paced up and down the boat ‘not appearing to assist anyone and stepping over those in his way.’

Ms Agnew said that after the accident, Lawrence phoned Howley four times, telling him: ‘Hey mate, I have had an accident, it’s a really bad one.’

The schoolgirl then died at Southampton general hospital later that day from chest injuries.

Lawrence, of Blackfield in the New Forest, Hampshire, denies manslaughter by gross negligence, failure to maintain a proper lookout as master of the boat, and failing to proceed at a safe speed while operating the boat.

Howley, of Hordle, New Forest, denies ‘failing to take all reasonable steps to secure the boat operated in a safe manner’.

The trial continues.

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