The attorney for the Decatur couple charged with criminally negligent homicide in the fatal boating accident at Smith Lake on July 4 said his clients “vehemently deny” the charges.
Nick Bowling Suggs and his wife, Jodi Wallace Suggs, both 50, were indicted by a Winston County grand jury Tuesday and arrested on Class A misdemeanor charges Wednesday.
The couple turned themselves in at the Winston County Jail shortly before noon on Wednesday and were released at 1:08 p.m. after posting $3,000 bond each, according to Jail Administrator James Whitman.
“They have both cooperated with the investigation of this boating accident since Day 1,” said Jason P. Knight, a Cullman attorney representing the Suggses, in a written statement. “It is confounding to us that the Alabama Marine Police Office has now filed charges against the driver of both the vessels involved in this wreck. It makes zero sense. At any rate, the Suggses vehemently deny the misdemeanor charges against them and look forward to being vindicated and put an end to this nightmare.”
Kelsey Nicole Starling, 26, of Troy, who was a passenger on a 2012 Mastercraft boat operated by William Jackson Fite, remains missing after the crash in the deep Rock Creek area of the lake and is presumed dead.
Fite, 23 and a Decatur native, was charged with boating under the influence. Jonathan B. Lowe, of Haleyville, listed in court records as Fite's attorney on the charge, was out of the office Thursday afternoon and not available to respond to the statement from Knight.
All of the charges in the accident are misdemeanors, authorities said.
The Suggses have arraignments scheduled for 9 a.m. Oct. 3 in Winston County Circuit Court, according to court records.
"Mr. and Ms. Suggs are as fine a class of people as you would ever meet. They are universally loved and respected in their personal and business communities,” Knight said in the written statement. "... They also want to extend their heartfelt thoughts and prayers to all the families affected by this tragic accident and in particular to Kelsey and the Starling family.”
Meanwhile, the search to recover Starling’s body resumed Monday with at least four agencies searching in the Rock Creek area of Smith Lake.
Alabama Marine Police Chief Deputy Matt Brooks said at least seven diving specialists with underwater sonar are in the lake searching as far down as 220 feet. He said the search will conclude today. He said if Starling’s body is not found by then, “we’ll sit down, evaluate things and may revisit it in the future. Right now, we’re actively searching for her body.”
He said the depth, remnants of a forest flooded to make the lake, and terrain at the bottom are the biggest challenges searchers face.
Previously, 20 search and rescue teams worked from July 4 to July 19 to find Starling’s remains before the search was suspended indefinitely.
“The Houston County Rescue Squad was involved in the prior search,” Brooks said. “They were able to network to bring in additional divers. All of the divers are volunteers. It’s a matter of timing and logistics. You just can’t call them up one day and expect them to be there the next.”
He said along with Alabama Marine Police and Houston County, the Winston County Emergency Management Agency and Smith Lake Task Force are at the unified command post on Wren Road working on the recovery effort.
“We’re grateful to the local property owners on the lake who have allowed us access to their property during this search,” Brooks said.