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Katrina rescuer who saved 200+ people sued by boat owner


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A Broadmoor man who said he rescued more than 200 residents after commandeering a boat during the flood after Hurricane Katrina is being sued by the boat's owner for taking it "without receiving permission."


Mark Morice, who by the Wednesday after the storm said he "couldn't get more than a block or two without people screaming to me for help," took the boat "out of necessity. . . . I did it for my neighbors."


Among them was Irving Gordon, a 93-year-old dialysis patient who Morice carried from his flooded home, placed in the boat and rescued from distress.


"I don't know where we would be today if it weren't for him," Molly Gordon, Gordon's wife of 65 years, said Friday.


The lawsuit contends that boat owner John M. Lyons Jr. suffered his own distress, in the form of "grief, mental anguish, embarrassment and suffering . . . due to the removal of the boat," as well as its replacement costs.


E. Ronald Mills, Lyons' Metairie lawyer, who filed the suit in 24th Judicial District Court in Jefferson Parish earlier this month, on Friday accused Morice of "hubris."


Morice made no attempt to return the boat, Mills said, and it remains missing.


'Living in fear'


The Friday after the storm, Morice said, he left the city briefly to recover from a week of trolling the city's streets, "living in fear and sleeping with a shotgun." That day, after delivering 15 people to dry ground on Claiborne Avenue near the Orleans-Jefferson parish line, Morice said he parked the boat there and left it for other rescuers to use. Given the sum-of-all-fears atmosphere at the time, returning the boat "was the farthest thing from my mind," he said.


Molly Gordon said she was baffled by the lawsuit.


"This man should be so grateful he had a boat that saved lives," she said.


During a news conference at his Napoleon Avenue home Friday, Morice and his attorney, Joseph A. Marino III, displayed photographs and showed video Morice took in the neighborhood, which showed desperate high-water scenes accompanied by a bone-chilling soundtrack of screams and pounding, apparently from people trapped inside attics.


Lyons' boat, an 18-foot, 1998-model 180 Sea Sport, was one of three Morice said he commandeered after water started rising in the neighborhood. Morice said one of the other boat owners told him he was glad Morice had been able to hot-wire his boat -- Morice said he actually got instructions on how to do it from Yamaha customer service -- and the other boat owner apparently has not complained.


Morice did try to borrow a boat the old-fashioned way. But because cellular phone service was out, Morice, a lawyer, said he began text-messaging several friends Tuesday asking if they had boats he could borrow.


But all the boats his friends suggested either sank or already had been put to use, Morice said. On State Street Drive, however, he noticed two boats that appeared usable and used bolt cutters to cut gate locks and check them out. Morice said he took Lyons' because the keys were in the ignition. He said he didn't know who owned it.


Morice used the boat to deliver Molly and Irving Gordon to nearby Memorial Medical Center on Wednesday, they said. The next day, as a nightmarish scene inside the dark, humid hospital was finally ending, Morice was one of 10 boaters who helped evacuate the last patients out of Memorial, he and the Gordons said, dropping them on dry ground at St. Charles Avenue.


Morice used gas siphoned from cars on the upper floors of Memorial's parking garage to power the boats he and several friends used in rescue missions that week.


Sometime in September or October, Morice returned to the home on State Street Drive and spoke to Lyons' wife, he said, explaining why he had taken their boat. He later e-mailed the Lyons a picture of him using the boat to rescue people.


In January, he received a letter from Mills noting that the Lyons had received less than half the replacement value of the boat and its motor from their insurance.


The letter asked Morice for $12,000 to "settle this matter."


Morice said he thought the letter was "a joke" and paid little attention to it until this month, when the lawsuit was filed.


The lawsuit accuses Morice of taking the boat "solely to promote himself and his law practice." Although he appeared in several newspapers in the storm's aftermath, Morice said he never sought the publicity.


Mills said Morice could have been more responsible when he took the Lyons' boat.


"If I felt I had to take the boat I would have at least left a note," Mills said.


Morice's reaction? "Next time there's a major storm or natural disaster and I'm called to save lives, I'll try to remember to bring a pen and paper," he said.

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Just goes to show you where morality and the law collide. Because, obviously the guy who stole the boat was doing the moral thing but not the legal.


Depending on how serious they take this, which I'll bet not very, he could get a very light sentence. But, I think it'll probably be thrown out like everybody else.


It's still well within the rights of the dude who got it stolen to sue, legally. But, I agree, it's also in very bad taste to do so.

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The guy who stole the boat did nothing wrong in a civil matter. Our common law has a very old defense to certain torts such as conversion, thats a greater good defense.


The classic example is a man who during a fire burns down a property in order to prevent the fire from spreading. In this case he is not liable. So morice is not liable.


Furthermore, Buckeye, you mention a light sentence, I dont know if you've done depper research into this matter but from that article alone it doesnt mention criminal charges at all. So here Morice did the morally correct thing and the legally correct thing as well b/c he did not violate any laws, criminal nor civil.

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