A Driver's Mystifying Death
Photo Courtesy of Nick Caruso
Nick Caruso tries to revive Vince
Napoliello, above, on Aug. 4.
AT 4:03 p.m., Crowell pointed his video
camera at Vince, who moved slowly toward the stern of the Andrea
He held his arms straight down, perpendicular to his body. They
fluttered as if he were warming himself. He kicked lightly, his
black fins moving only inches, up and down.
It was the slow-motion swimming style that deep-wreck divers
sometimes use to conserve their precious breathing gases.
The two yellow tanks containing Vince's decompression gases hung
down on each side of him. It didn't appear that he had used either
one. Their regulators remained strapped close to the tanks.
A bubble trail flowed off Vince's gear. He was still breathing.
Murphy was antsy. He wondered if Vince planned to turn around and
come back. He glanced at the luminous gauge on his wrist that told
him how long he had been underwater.
Newsday Photo/Michael E. Ach
Above, he sits with his two children,
Christopher, 3, and Joseph, 1.
Murphy had two minutes to get to his first decompression stop,
100 feet up.
Vince continued swimming down the hull. Murphy couldn't put it
all together in his mind.
"Vince knows the wreck," he thought. "He's been
here before. I'm on an anchor line. It's not the right one, but I
need to get out of here right now."
By the time the sun's rays reach 200 feet, they color the cold
water a deep blue-green. On a good day, on the wreck of the Andrea
Doria, visibility might extend 50 feet.
Vince swam. The ocean gathered in his form.
As Murphy watched, Vince's image was painted over with successive
layers of green.
Then, he was gone.
AT 4:08 P.M. Nick Caruso stepped from the
shade of the Sea Inn's cabin, squinted into the afternoon light and
saw a diver in the water about 50 feet away.
The diver seemed to be rolled on his hip. Maybe he was adjusting
his equipment. Glare blasted off the water.
No, Caruso realized, the diver was motionless and face down.
Caruso shouted at Tom Surowiec to retrieve the diver in trouble.
Surowiec dived into the water.
"I need everyone up here now," he yelled.
Divers rushed in to help Caruso lift the man aboard. Santiago
Garcia snapped off the man's tight-fitting rubber neck seal. Others
unzipped the diver's dry suit. Someone scissored the wrist seals.
Caruso and Surowiec immediately started cardio-pulmonary
resuscitation. Surowiec, a Union City, N.J., police detective who
had crewed for years on the Seeker, recognized the diver as Vince
"Hey, Nick, he's got two bottles of 80 percent!"
"Poor ---------- , look what he did," another diver
Caruso thought, "This guy died from oxygen toxicity."
He continued working on Vince. Vince's eyes fluttered open only
On the Seeker, diver Pete Wohlleben was resting in his bunk below
when he heard shouting from the Sea Inn. He rushed up the ladder to
the Seeker's wheelhouse. Jenn Samulski, Crowell's companion and
business partner, was there.
"Is it one of ours, or one of theirs?" Wohlleben asked.
Back on the Sea Inn, Caruso asked Joanne Surowiec -- Tom's wife
and also a seasoned diver -- to examine Vince's gear. She noticed
the sloppy labels on the decompression bottles. But, when she tested
the gas with a portable analyzer, she found one to contain 36
percent oxygen and one to contain 80 percent.
They were correctly filled, even if the labels were all wrong.
The 80-percent bottle, however, was only about half full. That
suggested two possibilities: Vince breathed on the bottle when he
was too deep in the water and convulsed from oxygen toxicity. Or he
never filled the bottle to its capacity, a common practice.
Joanne Surowiec twisted the isolator valve that connected Vince's
two main tanks and discovered that he had dived with it closed. That
meant about halfway through his dive, he couldn't suck air from the
regulator in his mouth without reaching behind his head and opening
the valve. For some reason, he hadn't done that.
ALTHOUGH CROWELL later said he wished no
one had tampered with the equipment before it had been examined by
investigators, the Sea Inn crew members reacted as many divers
would. For years, they all had sat through diving classes, bantering
about the right and wrong way of filling tanks and rigging gear.
They were always dreaming up artificial emergencies and puzzling how
to get out of them.
"The curiosity level is great," Garcia said. "You
have to remember, this could be me. You want to know, where was his
At 4:46 p.m., as divers continued pumping Vince's chest and
blowing air into his mouth, Bill Cleary surfaced after his 65-minute
Cleary had been agitated and fearful. Something wasn't right.
Fourteen minutes earlier, a diver from the Seeker had dropped into
the water to do a head count on who was inching up the line. Cleary,
in an extremely unusual move, even went back down the anchor line to
see if either Vince or Denis was still hanging on it.
"I hung way off the line, in an effort to avoid my own
exhaust bubbles," Cleary said. "And I had the sense I was
looking into a grave."
He broke the surface and saw that people were doing chest
compressions on someone stretched out and shirtless on the stern of
the Sea Inn. He tore off his mask and regulator and started to swim
"Bill, get in the boat," said a diver, motioning him to
"Where is he?" Cleary shouted.
"Bill, just get in the boat," someone from the Seeker
said, and Cleary swam back.
Eleven minutes later, Denis Murphy surfaced near the Sea Inn and
swam over to the Seeker, and Cleary told him what had happened. Soon
after, Emmett McDowell came up and lumbered aboard. He was a police
officer and an emergency medical technician.
Crowell yelled down to McDowell: "Go over there, Emmett, if
you want to help."
He grabbed his medical bag and stepped down into the inflatable
Zodiac boat. Cleary started to climb in after him.
"Get out of there," Crowell bellowed down to Cleary.
Aboard the Sea Inn, they continued to conduct CPR on Vince even
though it appeared to be a hopeless situation. It's required at sea
to continue life-saving attempts until the Coast Guard arrives.
By 5:25 p.m., a Coast Guard helicopter was hovering over the Sea
Inn. Twenty minutes later, the helicopter had left for Cape Cod with
the body of Vince Napoliello.
McDowell came back to the Seeker and approached Cleary.
"He's gone," McDowell said.
The two men embraced.
"Did he ever regain consciousness?" Cleary asked.
"No," McDowell said. "We never got a vital sign
Crowell prepared the Seeker to head back to Montauk.
On the Sea Inn, no one felt like diving. But the decision was
made to remain at the wreck of the Andrea Doria. So they stayed.
"We were there for three days," Nick Caruso said.
"That's what my people paid for."
SOMEONE BROUGHT SOME Corona beers from the
hold, and Bill Cleary took two as the Seeker turned west again for
the all-night sail back to Long Island.
He cracked the gold cap from one of the bottles, walked to the
side of the boat and poured it into the water coursing past the
"Here, Vince," he said, "this is for you."
Cleary, McDowell and Crowell lit Arturo Fuentes cigars and
settled into spots on the steel equipment table. There, only a few
hours earlier, they had chattered about the artifacts they had
brought up 200 feet from the Doria.
It was a clear night, warm and calm. The darkening sky glistened
with what looked like broken bits of porcelain.
Crowell found himself in a rare battle with self-doubt. He wasn't
sure he wanted to continue being skipper of the Seeker.
"This ------- " he thought. "Can I stand the
emotional strain all this places on me? I don't know. I don't
The men smoked quietly in the dark, and they sipped the Coronas,
and the Seeker took them through the warm night to Montauk.
‘What, another one?" Lt. Tim Dickerson of the Coast Guard
said to himself on Aug. 4, the afternoon Vince Napoliello died.
Dickerson already was immersed in the investigations of the
deaths of Craig Sicola on June 24 and Richard Roost on July 8.
He had an idea about what had happened in both cases. The medical
examiner in Boston ruled Craig died from drowning and catastrophic
lung damage that Dickerson believed occurred when Craig's emergency
ascent line snapped and sent him rocketing to the surface.
Dickerson wouldn't be able to fully recreate Richard's last
moments. His dive computer had been in the water so long it recorded
over second-by-second information about the depth of his dive that
could show his path through the wreck.
His gas mix had checked out. His equipment worked. There were no
drugs in his system. The evidence suggested that for some reason,
Richard passed out and exhausted all of his air. The Suffolk County
medical examiner's office marked down Richard's cause of death as
"drowning." But Vince's case would continue to mystify for
months. Things didn't get any clearer when word leaked out in the
fall that a Massachusetts autopsy determined that oxygen toxicity
and blocked arteries significantly contributed to his death by
The pathologist told Dickerson that he listed oxygen toxicity as
a contributing cause after reading a diving-gear report he had
requested from two Wellesley, Mass., police officers who were
experienced Doria divers.
However, in an interview, Sgt. Robert Yeagle said he and Deputy
Chief Terrence Cunningham had no way of knowing whether Vince ever
breathed from one of the decompression bottles.
"An underwater crime scene is the hardest crime scene to get
evidence from," Yeagle said. "No one eye-witnessed him
breathing from the wrong regulator." Crowell zeroed in on
Vince's heart condition. He theorized that Vince may have lost
consciousness due to a deadly buildup of carbon dioxide, which was
caused by his clogged arteries. Too much carbon dioxide can also
cause mental confusion and may explain why Vince tore Murphy's
regulator from his mouth.
It provided him the clue he needed to chalk up Vince's death to a
medical accident. It allowed him to counter arguments that big-boy
diving was inherently unsafe.
Crowell acknowledged he didn't know for certain how any of the
three men had died. Still, that hasn't stopped him from airing his
opinions in talks at several major dive shows in the Northeast this
Dickerson eventually embraced Crowell's theory about Vince
Napoliello. But Vince's family accepted the ambiguities of what had
happened that day at the Doria.
"There could be a hundred reasons why Vince died," said
Vince's brother, Dr. David Napoliello, a trauma surgeon. "You
don't have to make a mistake. We just don't know for sure what
happened." Nick Caruso, however, thinks he knows what happened,
and he and Dan Crowell have dueled in public on the question.
Caruso was among those who crouched in the aisles on March 27 at
the Beneath the Sea diving show in Secaucus, N.J., to get a look at
the presentation Crowell had worked up over the winter: "Andrea
Doria - Accident Analysis." Crowell, who usually favors blue
jeans and a tucked T-shirt, wore a sport coat, button-down shirt and
necktie. Caruso asked why Crowell allowed Vince to dive with his
horribly labeled tanks.
"Look, if we notice something that's confusing or strange,
we'll ask the guy to not go in the water, and we'll analyze out the
gas," Crowell said. He added that to clear things up, this year
he planned to print labels for people to use on his boat.
They continued to debate the cause of Vince's death, to no
resolution, but Crowell bristled at Caruso's implication that people
on the Seeker didn't look out for one another.
"I'm not everyone's leader, OK?" he told Caruso.
"... It's not my responsibility to babysit all these
people." AFTER she heard the news about Vince, Marisa Gengaro
called his voice mail at Legg Mason and recorded the chirpy message.
"Hi, I'm either on the phone or I'm not in. Leave a message,
and I'll get back to you as soon as I can." Sometimes she fell
asleep with the tape recorder next to her ear.
"Hi, I'm either on the phone or I'm not in. Leave a message,
and I'll get back to you as soon as I can." She tortured
herself with things that didn't make any sense. For the first time,
she had failed to bake Vince a batch of chocolate-chip cookies for
the trip to the Andrea Doria.
"You didn't bake any cookies," Vince had told her one
"No, I told you I didn't have time," she said.
He flashed the big smile. It was the ever-ready grin he used to
punctuate his funny stories at Legg Mason parties, at the dart
matches at the Wall Street bars after work.
"Well, if I don't come back, you know that's the
reason!" Of course it didn't mean anything and her girlfriends
all told her to forget it.
But she couldn't. Vince was gone, and they'd had that heat
between their eyes, just like in that Peter Gabriel song they both
liked, and everyone could see it. And they were to be married at
Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church, and have pretty
Italian-American children, and they would go for rides on the little
boat Vince called Champagne. And now what? So she was lost for a
She wore Vince's jacket a lot. It was crazy right after New
Year's. The fourth of every month is tougher for her, because Vince
died on Aug. 4. Then, on Jan. 5, it would have been Vince's 33rd
The next day, she moved out of her apartment. Vince kept many of
his things there, even though he had the place in Brooklyn.
"I had to get out of there," she said.
She couldn't help remembering the night Vince had asked her to
marry him - Feb. 13, 1998. She came home to a bouquet of roses, a
teddy bear and a note from him. "Wear your best clothes,"
the note said. A car picked her up and took her into Manhattan,
where they dined and he popped the question.
That's the way Vince did things.
Marisa tried to stick to her Saturday routine on April 24, the
day she and Vince were to be wed in Roseland, N.J.
She awoke at 7 a.m. to walk her dog. Her father and one of her
bosses from the Parkside School called her early that morning to
check on her.
"It was a beautiful day for a wedding," she said of
that warm spring day. "I can pick 'em!" She went to the
gym, cleaned the carriage house in Essex Fells, N.J., where she
lives, and shopped for groceries.
"Some days are fine, and some days are up and down,"
she said. "Some days are nightmares." She drove to Gates
of Heaven, the cemetery in nearby East Hannover where Vince is
Vince's family still had not bought a marker, but Marisa knew
where the grave was by heart.
She brought a bouquet and placed it there on the grass.
Selecting the flowers was easy. For Vince, she chose red roses.
PEOPLE DIE, BUT the divers keep coming to
the Andrea Doria. The Seeker's first charter left Monday night from
Montauk. It was full.
Many of the men had gone out a year ago on the same
season-opening trip with Craig Sicola.
Gene Peterson, who organized this week's charter, struggled to
explain why the divers return each June, and so he leaned on the
76-year-old words of British explorer George Leigh Mallory.
"They asked him, 'Why are you climbing Everest?' and he
said, 'Because it is there.'" Peterson and the other divers
can't forget what happened to Craig, the troubling vision of his
body on the deck of the Seeker. But they can't ignore the challenge
of the ocean currents roaring around the outside of the mountainous
wreck and the lights-out maze inside.
They can't resist the china.
The seekers need the rush of pulling on a 200-pound scuba rig and
descending once again to another world, airless, hushed and dark.