Alaska jury rules in Leawood man’s sea cucumber diving death

An Alaska jury has found a commercial fisherman guilty in the 2013 death of a Leawood man who was harvesting sea cucumbers.

Jurors found Joshua J. Wodyga guilty of criminally negligent homicide in the death of Levi Adams, 32, in a trial that ended on Friday in Ketchikan Superior Court, according to The Associated Press. The jury found Wodyga not guilty of manslaughter.

Adams died of carbon monoxide poisoning and drowning on Oct. 8, 2013, while he and Wodyga were diving for sea cucumbers — marine animals with a leathery skin that are used in some cuisines. The air compressor that was supplying air to their breathing hoses malfunctioned, and the Coast Guard responded to a mayday call from the fishing vessel. Authorities said that Wodyga had surfaced and noted that the “air didn’t taste right.” Adams did not surface.

Adams was declared dead at a hospital in Ketchikan in southeastern Alaska.

Prosecutors said Wodyga failed to properly maintain an air compressor and air filter, which led to Adams’ death. The compressor, they said, was marked as not for human use. Wodyga’s attorney, however, argued that the death was an accident that was caused in part by Adams’ diving inexperience.

Wodyga is scheduled to be sentenced in May. He faces up to 10 years in prison.

Adams’ family members attended the weeklong trial.

“I think they’re glad there’s a certain level of accountability,” Ben Hofmeister, assistant district attorney, told The Ketchikan Daily News.

Judy L. Thomas, jthomas@kcstar.com