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Park Service Liable in Maui Death

August 04, 2004|From Associated Press

HONOLULU — The National Park Service was liable for the drowning of a New York woman who fell into a Maui stream and was swept out to sea, a federal judge has ruled.

Visiting U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie awarded $2.3 million in damages Monday in the May 4, 2002, death of Xina Wang at Haleakala National Park.

Wang, 42, fell while trying to cross Oheo Stream near the Oheo Pools. She was swept over several waterfalls and out to sea.

Wang's husband, Timothy Wendt, 50, who ended up in the ocean while trying to rescue his wife, sued the Park Service, claiming park rangers failed to warn visitors that the stream in a remote part of East Maui was running at a dangerously high level that day.

Wendt disputed the Park Service's position that warning signs had been posted.

In addition, the couple hadn't been warned of a stream closure or the dangers associated with a high-water condition during a conversation earlier in the day with a ranger at the park's visitor center, Wendt's lawyer, Mike Livingston, said.

"The judge found that the failure to provide a verbal warning was inconsistent with their claim that they had closed the pools," Livingston said.

It was only after the drowning that the pools were closed because of dangerous conditions, Rafeedie noted.

Rafeedie awarded Wendt $1 million for the loss of his wife. Her estate was also awarded $500,000 in general damages and $800,000 for the loss of her income as an executive with the Lord & Taylor department store in New York.

Last year, three people drowned in two separate accidents in the park.

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