Whatever Happened To? Naples man burned in boat explosion now in custody fight

Victoria Macchi/Staff
- Sea Tow employee Shane Chaplin and owner Dan Mercier prepare to tow a boat involved in an explosion overnight on Saturday, June 30, 2012, in Naples. The explosion seriously injured Naples resident Alex Sempf and his 11-year-old son, Kristoff Sempf.

Photo by VICTORIA MACCHI // Buy this photo

Victoria Macchi/Staff - Sea Tow employee Shane Chaplin and owner Dan Mercier prepare to tow a boat involved in an explosion overnight on Saturday, June 30, 2012, in Naples. The explosion seriously injured Naples resident Alex Sempf and his 11-year-old son, Kristoff Sempf.

Helmut Alex Sempf

Helmut Alex Sempf

Handout photo
- 11-year-old Kristoff Sempf

Photo by DAVID ALBERS // Buy this photo

Handout photo - 11-year-old Kristoff Sempf

— Alex Sempf saw the spark as he cleaned fuel out of the waste tank on his boat, docked in the canal behind his Naples home.

Late on a Friday evening at the end of June, he went below on the vessel with a wet/dry vacuum as his 11-year-old son stood above the hatch.

Something flared inside the machine. The hose fell from his hands. Maybe it was panic, he says. He scrambled to get out of the hatch as the flames licked at his limbs.

"I watched myself burning," he recalls.

Helicopters transported the two to Tampa General Hospital that night. With burns to 20 percent of his body, the boy was discharged within a week and, while still healing, is able to play and ride his bike, according to his father.

Sempf, 59, took nearly a month to stabilize enough to come home to the three-bedroom house he shared with his son and 7-year-old daughter, both Lake Park Elementary students last year.

Second-degree burns covered 60 percent of his body, mainly his arms and legs.

He stands gingerly from his living room recliner. There's no pain, he says, just a tingling discomfort he tries to assuage with over-the-counter medicine. He's back to work, installing cabinets and shelves like before the fire, which the state fire marshal determined was accidental and caused $5,000 in damages, according to a spokeswoman.

Even though the fire happened at the dock a few hundred feet from the house the family rents, the home isn't the same since the accident.

The explosion stoked a long-running custody battle between Sempf, with whom the children lived, and his ex-wife.

Within two weeks of the accident, the children's mother requested — and was granted — temporary custody of the children while their father remained in the hospital. The children moved to Plant City with their mother and maternal grandparents.

Embroiled in custody proceedings since 2009, Sempf ultimately had been granted custody in late 2011.

Editor's note: The Daily News takes an occasional look back at people and issues that have been in the local news, though not lately. Have an idea? Post it below this story at naplesnews.com or call (239) 435-3457 and leave a brief message.

"I'm the only person on this earth who is going through the same thing he is," he says of his son, whom he sees every three weeks now.

Sempf's home on Bembury Drive, off Goodlette-Frank Road, has two items in spades: moisturizing lotions in bottles, tubes, and tubs to quench healing skin; and his daughter's favorite toys, two-inch-high Littlest Pet Shop dolls.

There are 104, her father says, and they are scattered throughout the house. Two dozen on the kitchen counter, a few on the dining room table, the majority on the shelves and floor in the 7-year-old's bedroom.

Her father left them where she did on her last visit about three weeks ago.

"The house is so empty without those kids," Sempf says.

Following a hearing Monday, a Collier judge is determining where and with whom the children will live.

Beverly Brennan, the attorney for the children's mother, said Leslie Sempf would like the children to remain with her and her parents "at least until it's confirmed that Alex is OK to take them back."

Alex Sempf says that time is now:

"I'm not 102 percent, but I'm 98 percent there."

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Stories

Related Links

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.

Features