Husband of newlywed who vanished at sea pleads guilty to manslaughter

Elias Hubbard
November 8, 2018

Hellman was not trained in emergency sailing procedures and had "substantially less sailing experience", the statement read.

But two weeks into the trip, there was an emergency after they left Cuba.

It was not until 45 minutes later, when he had already taken to the sea alone in the boat's life raft, that he made a distress call and reported his wife missing.

Lewis Bennett has entered a guilty plea to involuntary manslaughter.

The plea deal was struck after prosecutors originally sought a second-degree murder charge against Bennett, who was set to go to trial in December.

"Ms. Hellman's death occurred as a result of (1) Mr. Bennett's knowledge of circumstances that existed that could have reasonably enabled him to foresee the threat to life to which his acts or failures to act might subject another, namely Ms. Hellman; and (2) his gross negligence, amounting to wanton and reckless disregard for human life, in acting or failing to act as a result of that".

He did not deploy any flares and did not search for Hellmann in the water with either the catamaran or an attached dinghy.

Federal officials said Bennett will now be held accountable for his wife's death.

According to court documents, experienced sailor Bennett was awoken on May 15 2017 when he heard a loud noise while resting in their cabin.

Bennett "could not recall whether" he called out his wife's name, prosecutors said.

As the catamaran passed the Bahamas on the return to Florida, Bennett sent out an emergency radio signal.

Bennett's admission says on May 14, 2017, he and Hellman, while on the last leg of a two-week sail around the Caribbean, had dinner around 8 p.m.

Bennett said his wife was at the helm at about 1am, he was woken by a thump, searched the catamaran, could not find his wife and had to abandon the vessel when it started to sink. He was ultimately rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter, which transported him to the Marathon Jet Center in Marathon, Florida.

"Although he initially attempted to paddle the life raft to look for his wife, the life raft was hard to control, and he was scared to lean out to use the paddle, so abandoned his efforts", prosecutors said.

The Coast Guard used ships, planes and helicopters to comb over almost 5,000 square miles over the following days but suspended the search on May 18, 2017.

Bennett told investigators he gathered his personal belongings when he noticed that the vessel was taking on water, according to a criminal complaint filed when he was arrested. He was arrested in February in Miami and charged with murder after the Federal Bureau of Investigation found evidence that discredited his story. An FBI agent wrote in an affidavit then he believed Bennett intentionally scuttled the boat. "I can not think of any items that would accidentally cause similar holes in both hulls at roughly the same time", according to the affidavit.

Bennett had been working as a realtor in South Florida and married Hellman in February 2017, according to court documents.

He is now serving a seven-month sentence after admitting the theft. He faces up to eight years in prison when he is sentenced next year.

In a family statement, obtained by CNN affiliate WPTV, Hellman family attorney Joel Weissman said his clients' "hearts are broken".

Ms Hellman's family in Florida are desperate to see her.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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