Boat captain accused of severing swimmer’s leg facing lawsuit, citations

Part of a swimmer's leg was severed during a boating accident at Vanderbilt Beach in February. Witnesses said a fisherman who works for a nearby hotel drove his boat into the swim zone faster than is allowed. One witness, Carlo Lombardi, said the boat propellers severed a middle-aged man's leg just below the knee, completely detaching it from the body. Photo by Carlo Lombardi

Photo by Carlo Lombardi

Part of a swimmer's leg was severed during a boating accident at Vanderbilt Beach in February. Witnesses said a fisherman who works for a nearby hotel drove his boat into the swim zone faster than is allowed. One witness, Carlo Lombardi, said the boat propellers severed a middle-aged man's leg just below the knee, completely detaching it from the body. Photo by Carlo Lombardi

Video from NBC-2

Vanderbilt Beach

280 Vanderbilt Beach Rd. , Naples, FL

— The charter boat captain who struck a swimmer, severing his leg, at Vanderbilt Beach in February is facing a lawsuit from the victim along with charges of reckless and careless operation of his boat.

Brandon M. Ruganis, 31, was operating a 22-foot 2004 Pathfinder on his way to the Ritz-Carlton Naples Beach Resort on February 26, when he struck Rosario R. Pucciarelli, 69, of Naples Park, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials reported Tuesday. The propeller of Reganis’ boat amputated Pucciarelli’s leg, according to reports.

Ruganis, of Golden Gate Estates, was issued two citations by FWC on Friday night, agency spokeswoman Gabriella Ferraro said.

The first was for reckless operation of the boat, which is a first degree misdemeanor defined by Florida Statues as operating in “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of person or property at a speed or in a manner as to endanger, or likely to endanger life or limb.”

Ruganis’s second citation accuses him of a second degree misdemeanor charge of violation of Florida Statue by not looking out and not maintaining a safe speed.

It is not clear why it took nearly five months to issue the citations.

“The complete boating accident report is currently under review,” Ferraro said in an email to the Daily News. “I have nothing further at this time.”

She anticipated more details on the investigation will be available by the end of the month.

The boating citations, which did not lead to an arrest, came a couple of weeks after a lawsuit was filed on behalf of Pucciarelli by the Morgan & Morgan law firm on June 24 in Collier Circuit Court. The lawsuit names Ruganis and Ruganis’s company, Safiri Sailing Cruises Inc., of 280 Vanderbilt Beach Road, as defendants.

The lawsuit states: Pucciarelli was in a designated swim area and saw the boat cruising in a northerly direction.

“(Pucciarelli) waited for the boat to pass at a safe distance and then resumed swimming.

At that time and place, Ruganis accelerated the boat at a high and dangerous speed, made an abrupt U-turn and caused the boat to strike and collide with (Ruganis),” according to the suit.

Ruganis’s actions were careless and negligent, the lawsuit states.

Pucciarelli’s left leg was severed just below the knee, according to reports. He was airlifted to Lee Memorial Hospital where he was in critical condition. Pucciarelli was well-known at Vanderbilt Beach as a frequent swimmer.

The lawsuit against Ruganis states that Pucciarelli seeks compensation for damages including “bodily injury and resulting pain and suffering, disability, disfigurement, mental anguish, loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life, expense of hospitalization, medical and nursing care and treatment, loss of earnings, loss of ability to earn money and aggravation of a previously existing condition.”

The losses are permanent, continuing and will cause him to suffer losses in the future, according to the lawsuit.

Attempts to reach Pucciarelli since his injury have been unsuccessful. Attempts to reach Pucciarelli’s attorney, Joseph Linnehan, and Ruganis were also unsuccessful.

Ruganis is scheduled to appear at 9 a.m. on Aug. 11 in Collier County Circuit Court.

Ruganis is known for having operated his business out of the Ritz-Carlton. However, he is not an employee of the Ritz-Carlton and the hotel does not own the boat, Ritz-Carlton spokesman Bruce Seigel has said.

Ruganis’ only affiliation is as an outside vendor, Seigel said at the time of the accident.

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