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  • Effinger

Saturday, January 05, 2019 1:00 am

Victims in 2017 boat accident sue pilot

Want bills paid, blame her parents for drunken crash

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

Legal troubles are mounting for a Fort Wayne woman who avoided jail time last year when she was sentenced for causing a boating incident that left at least three people with serious injuries.

Dominique Effinger, 22, pleaded guilty to felony criminal recklessness with a deadly weapon for causing the wreck in July 2017 on Lake Gage in Steuben County. A judge in August sentenced her to home detention and ordered her to pay more than $125,000 in restitution.

She was later allowed to serve her sentence in Monroe County, where she was attending college.

Three victims of the crash say that isn't enough.

Daniella Higdon's arm was taken off in the incident, and she's facing growing medical costs on top of lost income.

Catherine Ralston suffered “painful debilitating physical injuries and limitation of (her) normal activities.”

The boat from which she was thrown struck Taylor Bolin “at least twice, causing serious and life-threatening injuries,” including traumatic brain injury and the near amputation of her right arm.

The claims are included in separate lawsuits filed in Steuben Circuit and Superior courts, respectively. Both ask for damages including paying for medical and attorney's fees and for Effinger's parents – Lisa and Donald Effinger – to be found negligent because they allegedly knew their daughter was drinking when she and her friends took to the water in a Correct Craft Sport SV 211 Limited motor boat.

Higdon filed the first lawsuit in September, and Ralston was added last month as a plaintiff. Bolin, of Noblesville, filed a 12-page lawsuit Dec. 3.

The Effingers have denied the allegations. Attorneys for the family said in court documents the victims' “own negligence” might have caused the injuries, damages, losses and expenses.

Emergency crews arrived at the lake July 15, 2017, to find 10 people in the water and the 21-foot boat unmanned. All had been drinking, according to court documents, and investigators said Dominique Effinger – who was 20 years old and had been piloting the craft – had a blood-alcohol level of 0.122 percent.

She had faced a list of charges including two felony counts of operating a motor boat with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher resulting in serious injury but pleaded guilty to the criminal recklessness charge as part of an agreement with prosecutors.

The lawsuit filed by Higdon and Ralston alleges the crash happened after Lisa and Donald Effinger provided beer and vodka-infused watermelon to their daughter and others including Higdon, Ralston and Bolin at the family's home on Lake Gage. The parents knew Dominique Effinger was drunk when she took the helm of the boat, the lawsuit alleges.

“On July 15, 2017, (they) did not consider the consequences of any harm to others in permitting Dominique Effinger to operate a motor boat with impaired judgment,” court documents state.

Bolin's lawsuit makes similar claims, and the Effingers denied them in separate responses. No hearings are scheduled in either case, court records show.

mleblanc@jg.net