Like no other earthly loss

Maddie Rowley | 315-4353 | @maddiedestinlog |

Avery Hatchett held a sheepshead by the hook, laughing before setting it down, its tail slapping the wet cement.

His wetsuit was pulled down to his hips, his blond hair still wet from fishing.

The drone panned over the water and the rocky wall of Destin’s east jetty before zooming in to focus on Hatchett again. He climbed the jetty, spear in hand — a silhouette in the setting sun.

The footage is silent and foreboding.

A little over a day after the video was filmed, 22-year-old Hatchett died in a tragic boat crash in that same spot on the east jetty. It was the place he loved most — where he spent time pursuing his passion for living life on the water.

Divers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recovered Avery’s body from underneath the jetty hours after the March 18, 2016 accident.

He was one of two casualties in the crash that happened in the early morning hours after St. Patrick’s Day.

Ten other passengers on the boat were injured and rushed to area hospitals. Anna Sorokina was presumed dead when her body was never found.

According to the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, the driver of the boat, Destin resident, Judsen "Judd" Cunningham, was allegedly intoxicated at the time of the crash.

He was arrested five months later and charged with several counts of BUI, negligent manslaughter, and theft.

Within the same week of his arrest, Cunningham posted a $120,000 bail and has been out of jail ever since.

Almost two years later, the case has yet to go to trial.

Chief Assistant State Attorney Bill Bishop said that the case has been continued until the May docket, with a new potential trial date set for May 29.

"The discovery phase is still ongoing, so there will be a new docket on May 23," Bishop said.

Cunningham’s attorney, David Oberliesen, was contacted but declined to comment on the case. 

Avery’s mother Lisa Hatchett grieves the death of her only son. She lost her father less than six months before Avery died, and lost her husband, Kent, to cancer when Avery was a junior at Fort Walton Beach High School.

She moved to her hometown of Grand Bay, Alabama, after Avery’s death, but plans to move back to Destin before the trial.

"It’s going to be hard to move back to Destin because Avery is everywhere. I will never be able to turn to Avery and say, ‘Remember when this happened?’ I can’t share my memories with my family like I used to."

Lisa’s goal is to make sure that Avery is at the forefront of peoples’ minds, especially as the trial inches closer.

"His death was totally senseless and preventable," Lisa said. "Avery was a cautious, careful and smart person and he never would have boarded the boat if he knew that the driver was intoxicated."

Now, Lisa seeks justice for her son and hopes that Avery’s friends and other members of the community attend the trial.

"I want Cunningham to be punished to the fullest extent," Lisa said. "I’ve never laid my eyes on him in person but my hope is that someday, I’ll have the strength to visit him in jail to tell him about my son." 

Lisa says that losing a child is like no other earthly loss. She remembers Avery’s humble nature, positive attitude and willingness to help others.

Before Kent died, the Hatchett family motto was "there is no substitute for hard work."

Avery took the loss of his father particularly hard.

"I told him, 'You can’t choose your name and you can’t choose your parents or your family, but you can choose your attitude.' " Lisa said.

A few days later, Avery suggested they change the family motto to "happiness is a choice."

Lisa chooses to live by that motto despite the pain.

"There are days when I don’t think I can get out of bed in the morning," Lisa said. "But then I remember that I’m Avery’s voice now, and I put one foot in front of the other."

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released the identity of those on the boat:

  • Avery Hatchett of Destin (DOB 08/31/1993),
  • Judsen Cunnigham (DOB 06/09/1986) of Destin,
  • Justin Echternacht (DOB 04/21/1988) of Fort Walton Beach,
  • Roxanne Agnelle (DOB 02/07/1985) of Destin,
  • Tara Banks (DOB 10/01/1985) of Destin,
  • Jonathan Goodhart (DOB 03/25/1982) of Shalimar,
  • Alexander Staniszewski (DOB 04/01/1988) of Santa Rosa Beach,
  • Byron Weiss (DOB 12/19/1990) of Virginia Beach,
  • Jerry Degroot (06/11/1988) of Destin,
  • Billy Blankenship (DOB 07/21/1988) of Destin
  • Dylan Asble (DOB 09/28/1990) of Mary Esther.

Cunningham, Agnelle and Ecternacht were transported to Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast; Agnelle and Ecternacht have been released. On March 18, 2016 Cunningham was transported from Sacred Heart Hospital to Bay Medical Sacred Heart in Panama City. Weiss was transported to Fort Walton Beach Medical Center and was released.

Boat occupants