Families of lost kayakers seek compensation for deaths
by Mindy Aguon
Guam - It's been almost nine years since five men employed by Seawalker Guam Tours went out in kayaks in the waters off Piti and never returned. Their families have been fighting to receive compensation from Seawalker through the Workers Compensation Commission.
A hearing that was held before the Department of Labor today.
The families of five men who died almost nine years ago appeared before an administrative hearing officer as they seek compensation from Seawalker Guam Tours. Michael Bautista, Ed Uson, John Aguon, Keith Brian Mendiola and Roland Jose are known as Lalahen Tasi - "The Sons of the Sea". The five went out on kayaks after Tropical Storm Tingting and never made it back alive.
The families have spent the last nine years trying to get compensation from Seawalker through the Workers Compensation Commission. Hally Lee, the mother of Roland Jose said, "I'm just hoping for justice. I'm fighting for my son's justice."And Janeyrose Aguon Cruz, the sister of John Aguon, stated, 'It's still very hard for us to find closure. We're just looking for compensation for the minors, for the survivors who are still left behind, the minors, the mother, the wife."
As the families seek closure, today's hearing was to determine if the five men were injured in the scope of their employment with Seawalker. If the incident is determined to be a compensable work related situation, each employee's family could receive $100,000.
Lee noted, "We don't know why they got the call when it's rough conditions. Why they have to come in, in the first place we don't know why the company and insurance deny when they supposed to be responsible for the employee. Don't we rely on the company? Why they reject us? Why they turn away from our family?"
Attorneys read the depositions of two Seawalker employees. Matthew Marmar's deposition was read out loud as he talked about the June 2004 incident and said Aguon suggested the group of employees go out in the water.
Tim Roberts, Seawalker's attorney, asked Marmar, "Was it part of your job duties t o take the kayaks out when there were no customers?", leading him to reply, "Is it part of our duty? No." Marmar added, "We're not supposed to go out in the kayaks because they didn't tell us to go out there and yeah the water was rough, too."
Another Seawalker employee's deposition, Edihson Etse's, was also read in as testimony.
"How did you view what John Aguon said?" said Robert, with Etse answering, "For telling us to go ride kayaks? Yeah to go have fun you said for me it's not an order, it's a fun time." Roberts then said, "He's telling you it's okay if you do it?"
"Yes, us," said Etse. "We know it's not safe but I still want to do it have fun with my co workers to enjoy the waves."
But Attorney Robert Keogh contends that the men weren't out on a frolic, saying they initially were riding the kayaks during a break in work but it quickly turned into a rescue mission. "Five to ten minutes after the first guy fell off the others were paddling out to try to save him. An appropriate thing the necessary thing and the honorable thing for these other guys to be doing," he said.
Roberts said, "This rescue theory is a total mischaracterization of the deposition testimony. I'm not going to argue too much about it. The employees weren't on the pontoon when they noticed their colleagues were in trouble out on the reef. They were out there with them. They had already violated direct orders from their supervisors, the bosses and violated the order to chain up the kayaks and wait for the water blaster."
Seawalker director of operations Darriel Romero maintains he made it clear during a morning staff meeting that the basic instruction to not to go into the water only to chain up the kayaks and make other preparations. He stated, "But nobody was to get in the water because we all knew the current was strong," to which Roberts asked, "You told them that?", which Romero said he did.
Administrative hearing officer George Santos will review all of the testimony and evidence presented today. Part of that will include a picture of the five men, something Seawalker opposed having admitted into the record. Keogh said, "The intent is Mr. Romero gets to come here and testify in person. These five young men cannot. So to have their presence here at least to have photographers to show that these are human beings that we're talking about and not legal issues I move that this photograph is relevant, admissible, and is something that the commission should know about."
Santos will make a recommendation that will be presented to the Workers Compensation Commission that will ultimately decide if Seawalker will have to compensate the families of the employees.