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Friday, July 18, 2008
The Advocate, Andrew Sullivan/AP
NEW HAVEN, Conn The widow of a Connecticut man who disappeared during their honeymoon cruise said Friday that her husband had mixed prescription drugs with alcohol the night he vanished three years ago on the Mediterranean Sea.
[George was just 26 when he died during a cruise on the Royal Caribbean ship Brilliance of the Seas.]
The widow, Jennifer Hagel Smith, said her husband’s family has refused to acknowledge the possibility that George Smith’s intoxication from alcohol and prescription drugs may have been a factor in an accidental death. Instead, she said they have insisted Smith was a victim of foul play despite a lack of evidence.
“In the three years since George’s disappearance, the Smiths or their representatives have described a crime scene in the cabin on the ship that simply didn’t exist,” said Richard Sheeley, Hagel Smith’s attorney.
“They have published reports of blood evidence that the families now know is baseless,” he said, “and they have conjured up a conspiracy that never existed between the cruise line, investigators and, eventually, even the young woman they once welcomed into their family as a daughter.”
The conspiracy, Sheeley said, was that the Royal Caribbean cruise line was withholding information from the Smith family.
Smith, of Greenwich, was taking the antidepressant Zoloft and Clonazepam, which treats anxiety and panic disorders, Sheeley said. A doctor had advised him not to drink alcohol while taking the drugs, he said.
Hagel Smith is not saying the prescription drugs and alcohol caused her husband’s death, Sheeley said.
“But it could have contributed to an accident that caused his death,” he said.
The claim that George Smith used alcohol and prescription drugs the night he disappeared came in a new legal filing Friday in Stamford Superior Court.
Hagel Smith filed a response to an appeal by Smith’s relatives, who are challenging a nearly $1.1 million settlement she reached with Royal Caribbean. The deal was approved by a probate court.
Michael Jones, a lawyer for Smith’s family, said Sheeley’s comments were not accurate, but declined to elaborate. He said Smith’s family continues to believe he was a victim of foul play.
Hagel Smith did not want to disclose her husband’s use of prescription drugs, but was forced to do so because of his family’s “relentless” litigation, Sheeley said.
Hagel Smith has received numerous documents, including cabin access records and statements made to investigators, Sheeley said.
“There’s no evidence we can see of murder,” Sheeley said.
He said that there was only a “spec” of blood found in the cabin, and that what was originally believed to be blood on a towel turned out to be makeup.
George Smith was on a honeymoon cruise aboard a Royal Caribbean ship in July 2005 when he vanished somewhere between Greece and Turkey. His body has never been found.
The FBI has investigated Smith’s disappearance, but no one has been charged.
In the appeal, Smith’s parents and sister said his widow agreed to an inadequate settlement with the cruise ship line to avoid embarrassing disclosures about her conduct.
His disappearance followed a night of heavy drinking. The cruise line said his wife was found passed out on a floor far from their cabin.
Smith’s attorney has cited reports of Hagel Smith’s drinking and that she argued with her husband the night he disappeared, kicked him in the groin and left the ship’s bar. Hagel Smith has called those accounts “ridiculous” and “outlandish.”
Hagel Smith’s other lawyer, Elizabeth Byrne, said any embarrassing behavior that may have occurred had already been reported and was not a motivation to settle. She said the probate ruling showed the settlement was reasonable and that her client acted in good faith.