Divers didn't know water was so deep:[CITY Edition]
ROCHELLE D. LEWISChuck MurphySt. Petersburg TimesSt. Petersburg, Fla.: Apr 13, 1989.  pg. 3.B
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Copyright Times Publishing Co. Apr 13, 1989

CLEARWATER - Two divers who unsuccessfully tried to save a Clearwater man from drowning said Wednesday they were unaware that they were in deep water when they docked their boat to practice diving.

Kenton Pierce Durkee dropped 125 feet into a deep cavern in the Weeki Wachee River and drowned Tuesday afternoon during a diving expedition with his brother and a friend.

``We were not planning on going diving into this hole,`` said Daniel Durkee of Tampa. ``There were no markings or signs or nothing.``

Hernando County sheriff's deputies said Tuesday that the Durkees and a friend, Marcus McIntire, 30, of Tampa, launched their boat from Rogers Park in Hernando County and traveled about a half-mile east on the Weeki Wachee River.

Durkee and McIntire said that the group had planned to spearfish underwater in the Gulf, but that the water was too rough.

Sgt. Frank Bierwiler said Wednesday that McIntire told investigators that the drowned man had been despondent after losing his job. But McIntire denied saying that. Durkee's father, Keith Durkee, also denied firing his son, who worked at the Durkee Co., a partition manufacturing firm in St. Petersburg.

``When he came to work with me, it was sort of an interim thing for him,`` Keith Durkee said. ``I had every intention of him staying. I was counting on him.``

Both Daniel Durkee and McIntire have years of diving experience, but Kenton had been diving only one other time, Daniel Durkee said.

Durkee said Wednesday that he had been having problems with the depth recorder on his boat and thought it might be malfunctioning when it measured only 1 to 2 feet of water.

A Hernando County Sheriff's Office report on Durkee's death said that he was not trained to scuba dive and panicked when he began to sink in the river. The report said that Durkee drowned despite efforts by his brother and McIntire to remove his weight belt and inflate his buoyancy vest.

Durkee's body was found by divers on a ledge about 125 feet into the hole, the report said. The men had been in the water less then 10 minutes when the drowning occurred.

Scuba divers in Weeki Wachee who are familiar with the hole where Durkee died said Wednesday that it poses no inherent dangers to properly trained divers.

The hole, which is known to locals as Hospital Hole because of its fabled healing powers for fish afflicted with parasites, lies about one-half mile east of Rogers Park in Hernando County. It is about 100 feet wide at the surface and then arches down slowly to a depth of about 145 feet.

Paul Heinerth, who owns the Scuba West dive shop in Hudson, said Wednesday that he had dived in the hole several times over the years and never had any problems.

``There's nothing there that's hazardous,`` Heinerth said. ``There are no caves, no reasons to get lost, but you should be certified to dive.``

Durkee, 25, grew up in the Tampa Bay area, his father said. He attended St. Cecilia elementary school in Clearwater and Clearwater Central Catholic School.

He was married about a year ago, and he and his wife, Julie had a 4-month-old daughter named Nicole, family members said. The couple had recently moved back from Coconut Creek, where he worked with the A.C. Nielsen Co.

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Diver not to blame for death, jury says:[CITY Edition]
DAN DeWITTSt. Petersburg TimesSt. Petersburg, Fla.: Jun 30, 1991.  pg. 7
Full Text (601   words)

Copyright Times Publishing Co. Jun 30, 1991

The diving partner of a 25-year-old man who drowned in the Weeki Wachee River two years ago was not negligent in the man's death, a Hernando County jury ruled Friday.

The surviving wife and daughter of Kenton Pierce Durkee had asked for $4.9-million in a lawsuit against Marcus McIntire, 32. The six-person jury ruled after about an hour and a half of deliberation that they would get nothing.

McIntire, who lives near Orlando, said his insurance company could have settled the suit out of court. But he fought it, he said, because he did not want to be remembered as the person responsible for the death of his good friend's brother.

McIntire grew up in Tampa and played on two Jesuit High School basketball teams that went to the Florida state tournament in the late '70s with Danny Durkee, the brother of Kenton Durkee. Danny Durkee was with his brother and McIntire at the time of the drowning.

"I know almost everyone in Tampa my age," McIntire said. Of the suit and the claims that he had contributed to Kenton Durkee's death, he said, "I've never been so offended in my life."

He said his relationship with Durkee's parents and his brother has been severed by the suit. He does not blame them, but lawyers who saw an opportunity for a big payoff. "I think they were led down the wrong path," he said of the family.

McIntire said he knew he was not negligent in the April 11, 1989, drowning because he had tried to rescue Durkee, who lived in Clearwater at the time. Durkee's body was found about 125 feet below the surface at Hospital Hole, a notorious cavern in the Weeki Wachee River that plunges to nearly 150 feet.

"I gave it my best. I went to the wall for him," McIntire said. "I've got to live with what I did, and I will."

The suit, filed in behalf of Julianne Durkee and the couple's daughter, Nicole, claimed that McIntire had loaned Durkee the equipment and encouraged him to go down to Hospital Hole.

Lawyers rushed the Durkees away from the courthouse Friday and said they had no comment about the jury's decision.

"They alleged that (McIntire) went there to teach and instruct Ken, that he allowed a non-certified diver to go into the water, that he was negligent when he set up the equipment and that he was negligent when he tried to rescue Ken," said McIntire's lawyer, Jim Hardaway of Clearwater.

McIntire said it was not his boat, not his equipment, and that they had no idea of the depth of Hospital Hole. The three originally had planned to dive in the Gulf of Mexico, he said, but rough water forced them up the river.

A witness on the riverbank had watched Danny Durkee check it before Kenton Durkee and McIntire dove, Hardaway said. When Kenton Durkee began to sink in the water - McIntire said because of faulty buoyancy equipment - first Danny Durkee tried to help him back to the surface. Then McIntire went down, before giving up in exhaustion, he said.

McIntire said that the county should post signs marking the depth of Hospital Hole.

That issue had been the basis of another suit filed earlier this year by the Durkee family against Hernando County. That suit was settled about a week ago out of court for $2,500, said County Attorney Bruce Snow.

Snow said there was no indication of negligence, but the county agreed to settle because it would take far more than that amount in legal fees to fight the suit.

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