Lori Stephens is asking for more than $1 million for the loss of her husband, Cobb Police Sgt. Brent Stephens, and funeral expenses, according to a civil lawsuit filed Monday in Paulding County Superior Court.
Named as defendants are the boat's driver Kenneth Reda of Acworth, who also was a Cobb Police sergeant before resigning after the incident; his wife, Melissa Reda; and his father-in-law, Albany resident Robert Carlson, who is believed to be the owner of the boat.
The suit claims Reda is responsible for Stephens' death because Reda was operating the fishing vessel "at an excessive and unsafe speed," while under the influence of alcohol, and failed "to render assistance to Brent."
It claims Mrs. Reda and her father are also responsible for the death because they allowed Reda to operate the 1993 offshore boat named Little Miss Sunshine, "with knowledge that he was incompetent by reason of his physical or mental condition."
Mrs. Stephens' attorney, John Salter, of the Barnes Law Group in Marietta, said a boat's owner is responsible for making sure anyone who uses it does so safely and is trained. Salter said Georgia law holds the owner of a boat liable if damage is caused during its use.
Reda's attorney, Marietta trial lawyer Jimmy Berry, said Monday he hadn't seen the lawsuit and was unsure if his client had been served. As such, he declined to comment. Although Berry is representing Reda in the ongoing criminal case, he said Monday he would recommend a different attorney to represent him for the civil suit.
On April 22, Reda, 38, was operating the boat that held two passengers, Shelly Powell, 35, of Acworth, and Stephens, 35, of Douglasville. The three were traveling to Harbor Town Marina, off Galts Ferry Road in southwest Cherokee County, after eating dinner at Props 'n Hops restaurant on Victoria Landing Drive in Woodstock.
Reda hit a navigational marker, causing Stephens to go overboard, according to the lawsuit and a Cherokee Sheriff's Office report.
Reda, who resigned on May 7, initially said there was nothing that would've caused Stephens to fall off the boat. He called 911 at about 10:30 p.m., which was roughly 90 minutes after police say he hit the navigational marker. He told the operator that his fellow Cobb officer and SWAT team member likely had jumped off the 22-foot, center console boat, and that the two were the only ones on board the night of the incident. However, he later admitted in a report he had dropped off Ms. Powell before calling 911.
Reda also told the 911 operator no alcohol was on the boat. But according to the Cherokee Sheriff's Office report, Ms. Powell said she and Reda removed beer bottles from the boat before police arrived and put them in a trash bag, which she took home with her after Reda dropped her off. The bag contained 13 bottles, according to the police report.
Reda and Ms. Powell were arrested six days after the incident and charged with making false statements and obstruction.
As for why Reda tried to hide the fact Ms. Powell was on the boat, he states in the police report that Ms. Powell was Stephens's girlfriend, and Stephens is married. However, Reda later told case detective Lt. J. Gianfala that Stephens was not "fooling around" with Ms. Powell and "apologized for misleading the investigation."
Salter said about the incident, "Rather than immediately call 911 for his friend, Reda instructed Mrs. Powell to remove all the empty beer bottles, conspired to mislead law enforcement, falsely denied there was any alcohol on board, and lied to the 911 operator and the other first responders about what happened."
According to the lawsuit, "The intent and purpose of Defendant Ken Reda's pattern of obstruction, evidence tampering and deceit was to delay and avoid being subjected to meaningful and accurate test of is blood alcohol content - a test that is mandatory whenever a fatality is believed to have occurred as a result of a boating incident."
Emergency crews searched Lake Allatoona for Stephens throughout the night of April 22. His body was found the next afternoon.
"It is awful that Brent's family spent hours hoping to find him alive when Reda knew the truth all along," said Allison Salter, who is co-counsel for Lori Stephens. "I know Brent and Lori because we all went to South Cobb High School and were around the same age. It might be a long legal journey, but our goal is to collect a substantial monetary judgment that will mitigate for Lori and her young children the loss of a brave officer and, to them, a really good husband and father."
Mrs. Stephens is asking for no less than $1 million in damages for the full value of her husband's life, and $10,000 to compensate her for Stephens's medical and funeral expenses. She also asks for a jury trial and any other relief the court deems appropriate.
Salter said it is possible boater's insurance could cover some of the sought restitution, but he was unaware Monday of details regarding any insurance.
He expects to ask the Redas about insurance during depositions he hopes to take on the couple on the 45th day after they receive the lawsuit. He also plans to ask about ownership of the boat, which he says remains unclear, though it was registered to Carlson. Salter said if it is determined that Carlson is indeed owner of Little Miss Sunshine, Mrs. Reda would likely be dropped from the suit.