The families of two Tequesta teenagers lost at sea in 2015 will mark Monday’s two-year anniversary of their disappearance by preparing to face each other in court.
The mother of Perry Cohen filed a lawsuit Friday against four members of Austin Stephanos’ family, alleging that negligence led to the death of her son. Cohen and Stephanos, both 14, were last seen July 24, 2015, motoring a 19-foot boat out of the Jupiter Inlet and into a fierce offshore storm.
“This lawsuit is about truth, accountability and justice,” attorney Guy Rubin said, reading from a prepared statement on the steps of the Palm Beach County Courthouse.
Any damages awarded in court will be donated to charity, Rubin said.
Named in the lawsuit are Austin’s parents, Carly Black and William “Blu” Stephanos, his grandfather, Richard Kuntz, and his stepfather, Richard “Bubba” Black.
Pamela Cohen and Nick Korniloff, Perry’s mother and stepfather, attended a news conference Friday to announce the court action, but did not take questions.
In June, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement ruled that there was probable cause to charge Black with child neglect because of “egregious lapse in judgment” that culminated in the disappearance of the boys, but a prosecutor declined to file charges.
Black owned the 19-foot boat her son was operating when it left the Jupiter Inlet.
“Because the state attorney declined to pursue a criminal case, a civil action is now Pamela Cohen’s only course,” Rubin said.
Pamela Cohen and Carly Black were once friends and appeared on national television together after their sons went missing, but the relationship spiraled into accusations and acrimony.
Cohen’s lawsuit targets Black for allowing the boys to go fishing offshore despite knowing that Perry was “expressly prohibited” from doing so. Black also knew the boat was ill-equipped and failed to alert authorities after not hearing from her son for hours, the lawsuit states.
“Responsible parents would have called authorities at the first hint the boys could be in harm’s way,” Rubin said.
George E. Harris, Black’s attorney, declined to comment.
William “Blu” Stephanos, Austin’s father, is also singled out for not calling authorities promptly and joining Black in refusing to allow law enforcement to get data from Austin’s cellphone. That matter was later settled in court.
“Responsible parents have nothing to hide and are fully cooperative and transparent, so other grieving parents are not wondering and waiting for questions to be answered,” Rubin said.
Kuntz, Austin’s grandfather, is named as a defendant because he knew the boys were going fishing offshore and supplied them money to fuel the boat. Bubba Black, Austin’s stepfather, is accused of negligent supervision in the suit.
The day before the boys disappeared, Perry spent the night at Austin’s house. Pamela Cohen said goodbye to her son and gave him a kiss and a tight hug and “never imagined she would never see him again,” Rubin said.
“Perry’s family cannot just ‘move on’, ‘put this behind them,’ or ‘let it go,’ ” Rubin said. “There is no easy way to move forward. … Pamela will not, and cannot stop until she is confident justice has been done for Perry.”