By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Detective Bryan's conclusion that the drowning was accidental hasn't helped Allen come to terms with the circumstances of the death. "She shouldn't have died," he insists mournfully. It's early evening on a Friday, and Allen has recently returned from a brief vacation in the Keys where he had his first look at Bryan's investigative report. His tie gone, Allen slumps his trim, six-foot-four frame into a desk chair in his Coral Gables law office. A voluble man with a heavy New Jersey accent, he candidly recalls his abbreviated romance with Figuerola and its tragic denouement. "I keep waiting for her to walk back into the room. Listen, I couldn't talk about this story for weeks upon weeks and weeks without breaking down, all right? And I've gotten very good at it as the time's gone by."
Both Allen and Figuerola took scuba certification classes with one of the country's leading training programs - the National Association of Scuba Diving Schools - but Allen still believes he was not adequately prepared. First off, he claims, he had no practical training in anything but serene seas. All of his in-water training had taken place in a pool, except for four open-water dives on extremely calm days. "They told us a little about currents and wind and waves," he says, "but you have to go out in something rougher than a bathtub." (Allen's dive instructor, Kenneth Dick, as well as the Lady Cyana III captain Greg Edkins, and Don Stelzen, Figuerola's instructor for her refresher course, all declined comment for this story and referred inquiries to their attorneys.)
A second inadequacy of his certification program, Allen alleges, is that his emergency training was brief and that he was never taught basic moves such as dropping the weight belt to create buoyancy. Third, there was no training in navigational skills underwater, he claims. "We discussed a little about the compass, but I've never used one. We didn't know shit about navigation." Allen, a seemingly punctilious organizer, insists that if his class had been taught something, then he would know it. "I had all these things cold," he says. "I'm one of those guys who's fanatical. I had to know everything. I'd even go to the library and read more about something." Furthermore, Allen says, he was one of the best students in the class, which was taught at the south campus of Miami-Dade Community College.
Allen also unloads some of the responsibility for Figuerola's death on the charter boat captain, Greg Edkins, whom he believes shouldn't have taken novices out on a day with rough-weather forecasts. "I had called at least two other people whose names had been given to me by Austin's [Dive Shop in Kendall], and they were not going out," the lawyer states. "They said the weather was too rough. When I called Lady Cyana, I was surprised they were going out." (National Weather Service forecasts for October 27 in the Islamorada area called for fifteen- to twenty-mile-per-hour winds and four- to six-foot seas. Coast Guard weather reports indicate seas were actually at two to three feet that day, detective Corey Bryan says.)
Don Stelzen also comes under Allen's fire. "He knew how bad she was," Allen insists. "He should've planned something for her. Who was he turning her loose to? Me? It was my first dive!" Allen argues that a mandatory refresher course - more comprehensive than Figuerola's - or mandatory recertification for rusty divers would have saved Figuerola. "When a diver gets a certification card, should certification stop at that point?" he asks. "Shouldn't a diver demonstrate competence over a period of time?"
Donna Albert, a lawyer representing Stelzen, Lady Cyana Divers, and Allen's dive instructor Kenneth Dick, dismisses Allen's complaints as "unequivocally outrageous." She says both Allen and Figuerola were properly trained to deal with any water conditions that arose during their dive. The National Association of Scuba Diving Schools course devotes an entire class to rescue skills and trains novice divers to execute basic emergency techniques. "After learning never to leave your buddy, you learn that when you're in distress, you drop your weight belt," Albert says. "They were nowhere near each other, and currents have nothing to do with one's failure to release one's weight belt. When you undertake to serve as a person's buddy, your function is to save the buddy, not to talk about what happened in a class three weeks ago."
As for Allen's charge that Don Stelzen shouldn't have let the couple dive alone, Albert says Stelzen even invited the couple to tag along with him and the group of his students diving from the boat. "This woman was a fully certified diver, she was not a student," argues Albert. "Even though she had a little bit of trouble clearing her mask, she wasn't let out of the class until she could do it. Once a person has a certification card, there's no requirement for her to be supervised."
But Allen is not alone in thinking minimum course requirements for scuba certification are not rigorous enough. Many of the divers and dive instructors interviewed for this story have at least a couple of gripes about the established certification standards. All the major dive-certification programs include classes on land, in a pool, and in the open water. They are designed to make divers proficient enough - and just barely proficient enough - to swim unsupervised in the open water. The programs may vary slightly, but in the end, a course's purported thoroughness depends entirely on the individual instructors.