Maker of GPS device sued in yacht race crash that left 4 sailors dead

Taken the day of the race, this photo shows the Aegean heading off on the 125-mile Newport Beach-to-Ensenada yacht competition.
(Susan Hoffman /

Relatives of one of the sailors killed when their boat ran aground during the annual Newport-to-Ensenada yacht race have filed suit against the manufacturer and distributor of the GPS device that was installed in the vessel.

Four men were killed in April 2012 when the 37-foot Aegean crashed onto North Coronado Island, just south of the U.S.-Mexico border.

The widow of crew member Theo Mavromatis and their three children filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court against Spot LLC, the Colorado-based company that manufactured the boat’s safety alert system, Globalstar. also is named in the suit.

“What happened to this guy is tragic,” said Walter Lack, a Los Angeles-based attorney for the family. “The product is designed solely to save your life, and the company utterly failed to do any of the things they promised when the family signed up for the service.”


Mavromatis, 49, of Redondo Beach, William Reed Johnson, 57, of Torrance, Kevin Rudolph, 53, of Manhattan Beach and Joseph Lester Steward, 64, of Bradenton, Fla., died during the popular boat race.

Early reports suggested that the boat may have been struck by a passing liner traveling in a nearby shipping lane, but an official report from U.S. Sailing, the sport’s governing body, determined that the Aegean ran aground. The conclusion was based largely on information relayed from the GPS device aboard the boat that showed its trajectory into the island.

Although the GPS device was functioning properly, Spot LLC is liable for damages because no one monitoring SOS signals alerted authorities, leading to the deaths, the complaint alleges.

Court documents state that about 1:30 a.m. April 28, 2012, the Aegean somehow became disabled. When the SOS emergency function on the Spot Satellite GPS Messenger was activated, emergency responders were never notified, the complaint alleges.

“They got the signal, the device worked, it was just human error on their end,” Lack said. “There was a Coast Guard boat nearby that could have been there within 20 minutes.”

Spot LLC wrote in a statement that it continues to stand by its products and the service the company provides.

“Our thoughts have always been with the families involved in this tragic incident, which occurred almost two years ago,” the company wrote.

Amazon is also being sued because it sold the product to the family, Lack said. The online retailer did not respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit, which alleges negligence, wrongful death and breach of warranty, seeks unspecified damages for loss of earnings, funeral expenses and loss of the family’s husband and father, in addition to any other damages the jury finds.