Metro

Sinking of Nathan Carman’s boat with mom on board was ‘entirely accidental,’ lawyers say

 The Coast Guard is searched for this 32-foot aluminum boat, Monday, Sept. 19, 2016 near Block Island, Rhode Island. The boat and two passengers, Nathan and Linda Carman aboard were reported as overdue after not returning from a fishing trip.
Carman Family via US Coast Guard

Lawyers for Nathan Carman, the Vermont man at the center of separate probes into the murder of his wealthy grandfather and disappearance of his mother at sea, said Saturday that the sinking of Carman’s boat with his mother on board was “unexpected and entirely accidental.”

The assertion came in court papers filed in federal court in Rhode Island, where the insurer of Carman’s vessel is suing him in an effort to quash his $85,000 claim on the sunken vessel.

The insurer has previously said Carman, 24, made suspicious alterations to his boat before he set out in the vessel from Point Judith, R.I. for a fishing trip with his mother, Linda, in September 2016.

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The vessel sank roughly 100 miles offshore, and Nathan Carman was later rescued in a life boat. His mother hasn’t been found. With her presumed death, her multimillion-dollar share of her father John Chakalos’s estate would eventually go to Nathan, her only child.

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Chakalos was fatally shot in December 2013, and police have labeled Nathan Carman a person of interest in the slaying. He hasn’t been charged and adamantly denies killing his grandfather. He also denies intentionally harming his mother.

In Saturday’s legal filing, Carman’s lawyers said he’ll prove during the civil trial in Rhode Island that he’s innocent of any wrongdoing in regards to the sinking of his boat.

“At trial [the insurer and another plaintiff] will be unable to meet their burden of establishing that Defendant intentionally caused the sinking and loss of his vessel,” Carman’s lawyers wrote. “[Carman] will prove at trial that the sinking of his boat was unintentional, unexpected and entirely accidental.”

The filing elaborated on Carman’s asserted lack of liability.

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“The [insurer] will be unable to meet its burden of establishing that the alleged incomplete, improper or faulty repairs was a cause of the Defendant’s vessel sinking,” the document said. “On this point it should again be noted that we are now three months past the expert disclosure deadline and Plaintiffs have not disclosed a single expert witness which they intend to call at trial.”

The attorneys said Carman “will prove at trial that at the time the vessel left dock on her final voyage, that the Defendant Carman reasonably, objectively believed the vessel to be seaworthy and that the sinking of his boat was unintentional, unexpected and entirely accidental.”

In prior court filings, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, National Liability & Fire Insurance Co. and the Boat Owners Association of the United States, painted a starkly different picture of Carman’s alleged tinkering with his vessel before it sank.

They alleged that Carman made suspicious alterations, including removing trim tabs and bulkhead halves, “with the intention of sinking his boat.”

“In removing his boat’s trim tabs hours before departing on its final voyage, Carman not only failed to properly seal four thruhull holes he thereby opened at the transom’s waterline, but two recent depositions establish Carman enlarged those four holes,” the insurer’s attorneys wrote in a December filing.

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The man who refurbished and sold the vessel to Carman testified during a deposition that the four transom thru-hull holes he drilled when installing the trim tabs were half an inch in diameter, in accordance with manufacturer directions, the December filing said.

The court papers said Carman testified during a separate deposition that the holes were the size of half dollars when he removed the trim tabs.

However, the insurer’s attorneys wrote, another witness said during a separate deposition that he saw Carman “bending over the transom using an electric power drill with a 1½ [inch] to 2 [inch] diameter hole saw hours before the final voyage. As the transom holes have gotten bigger, Carman’s problems in this case have also grown. ... No wonder the boat sank and Carman’s mother died.”

Elise Amendola/AP/File
Nathan Carman.

Carman is also facing a civil lawsuit in New Hampshire from his aunts, who are trying to block him from collecting his mother’s share of Chakalos’s estate.

About five weeks before Chakalos’s murder, court records show, Carman bought a gun that was the same caliber as the firearm used to kill his grandfather. The murder weapon hasn’t been recovered.

Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.