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Hilton Longboat Key Beachfront Resort Subject of Wrongful Death Suit;
Hotel Guest Drowned While Boogie-boarding

By Natalie Neysa Alund, The Bradenton Herald, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Oct. 3, 2007 - BRADENTON -- On the afternoon of Sept. 14, 2004, as Hurricane Ivan churned in the Gulf of Mexico, Joseph Lynn Milke went boogie-boarding off Longboat Key.

While in the water off the beach at Hilton Resort, 4711 Gulf of Mexico Drive, the 43-year-old resident of Greeley, Colo., drowned.

The family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Hilton's owner, Longboat Key Development, and a trial is set later this month in front of a Manatee County judge.

Jessica Beaver, a representative of Milke's estate, Milke's wife, Nancy; daughter, Sarah; and sons, Joseph J. and Zachary, claim the hotel neglected to warn the family of any dangerous conditions.

On the morning of Milke's death, the hotel staff advised guests that they should carry on with normal vacation plans, according to the suit.

"Being from Colorado, we were unaware of the dangers associated with the surf of the hurricane," Nancy Milke wrote Tuesday in an e-mail to the Herald. "We relied completely on the hotel and were told (to) carry on all activities as normal."

The suit, filed last summer, seeks damages of more than $15,000, including compensation for mental pain and suffering and medical and funeral expenses.

It claims the hotel failed to provide a lifeguard at its private beach and failed to put up signs advising swimmers they entered the water at their own risk.

"Hilton knew, or should have known, that there were rip currents and extensive surf activity as a result of Hurricane Ivan, and they failed to provide any flags or warning, any flags of danger signs associated with the hurricane or any information as to changing sand bars in the heavy surf due to the hurricane," the lawsuit states.

Howard Stone, a Coral Gables attorney who represents Longboat Key Development, declined comment on the case.

On the day Joseph Milke died, Milke's wife was on shore, said Jason Recksiedler, the family's attorney.

Robert Lamont, a Hilton employee, pulled Milke from the surf behind the resort after Milke fell from the boogie board, according to a Longboat Key Police Department police report.

Efforts to resuscitate Milke were unsuccessful, and he was pronounced dead at Blake Medical Center in Bradenton.

According to a coroner's report, Milke had a broken neck. Longboat Key police Capt. Judd Jensen said Milke probably hit his head while body surfing.

"There were 2- to 3-foot waves, not huge at the time," Jensen told the Herald in 2004.

He also said he it would be only conjecture, but there may have been riptides.

Recksiedler said a hotel employee provided Milke with the boogie board. He declined to say whether it was the first time Milke had used one.

According to an Oct. 13, 2004, obituary in the Wyoming Lusk Herald, Milke was an avid fisherman, hunter, camper, boatman and golfer.

"The loss of Joseph has been devastating," Nancy Milke said.


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