Detectives seek charges against boat maker in Lake Stevens drowning

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by CHRIS INGALLS / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @cjingalls

KING5.com

Posted on November 17, 2011 at 11:46 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 18 at 9:47 AM

The KING 5 Investigators have learned detectives are seeking criminal charges after a boater died on a Snohomish County lake.

What is extraordinary about the case is who could end up being charged. It’s someone who was nowhere near Lake Stevens on the night in July 2009 when Cindy Tate died.

Tate’s Tiger Trax ski boat capsized and sank to the bottom of Lake Stevens. Detectives want to charge the man whose company built the boat with manslaughter in the second degree.

"I knew that Cindy should have had a chance to live…and if somebody else caused her death then maybe it's time for them to be taken forward to a judge," said Snohomish County Sheriff’s Detective Alan Baker.

Baker has filed the case with Snohomish County prosecutors who will ultimately decide what, if any, criminal charges will be filed against Philip Warnock.

Warnock founded and ran the company that manufactured Tiger Trax ski boats before it folded about ten years ago.

“Somebody died because of what he’s doing,” said Baker.

Fatal foam?

Detectives accuse Warnock of negligence for knowingly using cheap, non-marine grade foam in the boat's hull. Instead of repelling water that seeped over time into the boat the foam acted like a sponge.

Detectives determined it added an extra 500 watery pounds that sloshed below deck.   "It works as an anchor. It adds weight to the boat, it adds instability to the boat," said Baker. “If it would have had the proper foam it probably would have stayed afloat for, who knows, an hour, two hours, three hours?”

When the boat flipped Baker believes Tate was pinned by another manufacturing defect. He said an improper seat latch gave way.

"(The)seat came up,  trapped her between the edge of the seat and the steering wheel,"  said Baker.

Years of problems

Phil Warnock has been at the helm of one of the most unique and long-running schemes ever uncovered by the KING 5 Investigators.

Since the 1980's he's owned more than a dozen small boat companies that ripped off investors, suppliers and buyers.

Tacoma police and the Washington Attorney General’s office looked into customer complaints following KING 5’s stories, but no action was taken against Warnock or his companies.

In an interview a month after Cindy Tate's death, Tiger Trax former sales manager told KING 5 Warnock knew the foam in his boats was dangerous.

“I went to Phil and his wife Vicky and told him we had to fix that problem,” said Corliss. “That day he said he was not going to change his procedure on anything."

Detective Baker said he learned about the questionable foam from KING 5’s story.

The detective said shoddy manufacturing sealed Cindy Tate's fate but he said she bears responsibility as well.

With nine passengers her ski boat was overloaded when it capsized. Detective Baker said Tate was legally drunk.

"I believe in my heart that she would be alive if that boat had floated,” said Tate’s close friend Dru Miller. “There were some strong people on that boat, they would have not stopped until they had gotten her out."

Miller recalls talking with Tate in the final hours of her life.

"She said ‘Okay, Dru, I love you.’ I said I love you too, and those were my last words to her," said Miller wiping away tears.

Philip Warnock did not respond to KING’s requests for a comment.  

Although sheriff’s detectives have requested a manslaughter charge, it is up to the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office to decide what, if any, charges will be filed against Warnock.

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