The family of a woman who died says Toughman promoters were negligent.
By TOM ZUCCO
Published September 23, 2003
TAMPA - A Bradenton mother of two who was killed during a recent Toughman competition was goaded into participating in "a barbaric, vicious, unregulated, bloody slugfest," her family said in a wrongful death lawsuit filed Monday.
Stacy Young, 30, signed a waiver before the fight that released organizers from liability. She also signed an affidavit stating she was physically fit and had trained for a minimum of 30 days prior to the fight.
But that training wasn't evident on the night of June 14, when she was knocked unconscious with just seconds left in her fight at Robarts Arena in Sarasota. She died two days later at Bayfront Medical Center.
The lawsuit, filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court, names Toughman founder Art Dore, his promotions company and the Toughman regulatory association Dore founded and controls. Also named are the Sarasota County Agricultural Fair Association, which approves events for Robarts Arena, and Ray Blackburn, a Wesley Chapel resident who refereed that night.
Blackburn was unavailable for comment. Joelle English, a spokeswoman for Dore's company, AdoreAble Promotions, said Dore had no comment.
"We're just looking everything over right now," English said.
Young's death renewed criticism of Toughman competitions, which have led to the deaths of at least 13 people since they began in 1979. At least four people have died in such competitions nationwide in the past year.
Toughman is banned in five states, and Dore has been sued at least twice before.
Another Toughman competition is scheduled for this weekend at the TECO Arena in Fort Myers.
"I know he has been sued," said Tampa attorney Greg Kehoe, who is representing the Young family. "But that doesn't affect us.
"Our claim is that they were negligent and didn't do everything possible to make this as safe as possible. We have a husband, Chuck Young, who lost his wife, and two little girls who lost their mom."
Young wasn't the only Toughman contestant to file a lawsuit Monday. Kehoe also is representing Tony Roten and his wife, Kelly, who claim Tony Roten suffered an "untold" number of blows to the head in three matches at the Sarasota competition.
After falling and being unable to defend himself in his third match, his wife attempted to stop the fight, but a police officer working security at the event held her back, the lawsuit says.
Roten, 30, lost consciousness, spent two days in intensive care and has been in the hospital five times since the fight. He has suffered brain damage, vision loss, and is walking with a cane, the lawsuit says.
Young, who was 5-7, 240 pounds and had never been in a boxing ring, tried to defend herself for most of her three-round bout against Sarah Kobie, a Sarasota cake baker who stands 5-11, weighs 185 pounds and had seven victories in seven fights since June 2002.
Ten seconds before the fight was to end, Kobie landed several punches to the back of Young's head. Young collapsed in the ring. She died two days later. An autopsy revealed the cause of death was blunt trauma to her head.
After a two-month investigation that ended Aug. 10, Sarasota police concluded no laws had been broken and the fight was an amateur bout. It also agreed with the Pinellas Medical Examiner's Office that Young's death was accidental.
But the investigation also noted that Kobie had an unbeaten record, and that the ring doctor was a physician's assistant. Blackburn, the referee, also told police he encouraged Young to give up before the final round. But the lawsuit claims Blackburn forced Young "to face off against Ms. Kobie once more in the center of the ring."
English, Dore's spokeswoman, said the lawsuits will not affect the Fort Myers Toughman competition scheduled for this weekend.
But it may soon be difficult to stage the events in Sarasota.
The Sarasota County Commission is scheduled today to take up the issue of Toughman competitions, and Commissioner David Mills said passage of an ordinance that would require strict guidelines - guidelines Mills said Toughman would have difficulty meeting - is likely.
Mills also sits on the board of the Sarasota Fair Association, which is not a part of the county government but is a defendant in the lawsuits.
"I'm disappointed they sued the Fair Association," Mills said. "Apparently, you can sue anybody in this day and age. We'll just respond and see what happens.
"But I hope nothing happens in Fort Myers like what happened here. It was a catastrophe."