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Parasail Bill Passes, After Victims Make Case To Fla. Lawmakers To Regulate Industry

A couple of victims of Florida parasailing accidents and their families traveled to Tallahassee Thursday. They advocated on behalf of a bill aiming to regulate Florida’s parasailing industry, which unanimously passed its first Senate hearing.

Alexis Fairchild Recalls Her Accident

“I just remember…being rapidly thrown around—it was hard—and then I just remember feeling this jolt through my whole body. I don’t remember hearing anything. I just remember feeling it in my body, and just knowing it just snapped. And, I remember we were screaming,” said Alexis Fairchild.

A tearful Fairchild could not continue as she recalled the Panama City Beach parasailing accident that nearly killed her. While on vacation last July, she and her friend, Sidney Good, went up in a parasail, when authorities say strong winds caused their tow line to snap. The Indiana teens then slammed into a condo, a power line, and later struck a parked car. And, Fairchild says they could tell the weather wasn’t fine.

"If they did not [pass the bill], they'd be crazy. How many other people need to be hurt or killed before this passes?"

“It was really peaceful, and you could see a storm in the back. You could…it was far distance a little bit, but you could tell it was raining. You could tell it was coming in. And, then, all of a sudden, we started feeling wind, so we were tossing back and forth, and then I remember saying, ’we gotta signal down that we want to go in,’” recalled Fairchild.

But, by then, it was too late. Now, several skull and back surgeries later, the 17-year-old says this should have never happened, and she wants the parasail industry to have uniform guidelines. And, she traveled from her home state of Indiana to the Florida Capitol Thursday to tell a panel of lawmakers just that.

“Like, parasailing is fun, it can be fun, if it’s done right. If this law would have been passed when it was first brought up, I wouldn’t be standing here. If it would have been passed the second time around, I wouldn’t be standing here. Don’t let another person be standing here. It’s my senior year, and it’s been flipped. I should be out doing senior things, making memories, going on Spring Break. Instead, I spend my time at home or at doctor’s appointments,” Fairchild said to members of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee.

Parasail Regulation Bill

This is the fourth consecutive year a bill to regulate the industry has been filed, and this year is the first time it’s coming up for a vote. The bill’s sponsor is Delray Beach Democratic Senator Maria Sachs.

“So, each parasail operator is required to have a VHF radio to monitor the weather at all times. When the weather changes in terms of sustained wind gusts of more than 20 mph, they must seize operations. If there is a lightning storm within seven miles of that activity, they must seize operations,” said Sachs.

Mothers Give Emotional Testimony

Echoing her daughter’s statements, Fairchild’s mother, Angie, says if at least the weather regulations had been in place, her family might not be in such pain. And, she pleaded with lawmakers to pass the measure because she says she never wants another family to experience that pain.

“When she was little, I taught her how to walk, talk, use the restroom, and everything, and at age 17, I’m teaching my daughter to do that again. And, I ask that all of you, please pass this. Don’t let another mother and daughter and family go through this again. It has been awful to watch my daughter struggle every day to do everyday activities, and what her future is going to be, I don’t know,” said Angie Fairchild.

Credit Florida Channel
Florida Channel
A tearful Shannon Kraus pleads with lawmakers to pass a bill to regulate the parasail industry. In a 2007 accident, she lost one daughter and another suffered permanent brain damage.

Shannon Kraus spoke as well. She’s the mother of Crystal and Amber White, for whom the bill called the “White-Miskell Act” is named after. Similar to Fairchild, both her daughters were parasailing when their tow line snapped as a storm approached. 15-year-old Amber died as a result, and her older sister, Crystal, suffers from permanent brain damage, due to the 2007 accident.

“I’m just really am asking you please, this time, put some regulations on this sport. I normally try to hold it together, but it’s been such a long fight. I want people to be safe when they come to Florida. I don’t want any more families to go through what I went through,” said Kraus, tearfully.

Fairchild Reacts To Bill Passage

Following that testimony, Florida lawmakers unanimously passed the measure 9-0 in the Senate Regulated Industries Committee. And, how does parasail victim Alexis Fairchild feel about that?

“Fantastic, are you kidding me? I don’t want to see anyone else go through this,” she said.

She adds she's also relieved she found the confidence to talk to lawmakers, and hopes they heard her message loud and clear.

“If they didn’t, they’d be crazy. I mean, how many other people need to be hurt or even killed before this passes, you know what I mean? Like, when is it enough,” asked Fairchild.

In addition to making sure operators don’t go up in rough weather, the bill proposes that operators carry at least a million dollars in insurance, have a license issued by the U.S. Coast Guard, and have certain equipment on the boat. Meanwhile, a similar measure is also beginning to move in the House.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.