INVESTIGATES: Mother of CDA student diver who died in 2019 wants answers surrounding his death

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The mother of another CDA Technical Institute diver, who died on campus, is speaking out.

Police said Jesse Abrams, 24, died of an accidental overdose right outside the CDA dorms on August 11, 2019.

Action News Jax first told you about the two most recent deaths at the CDA Technical Institute — Victor Pierce and Fausto Martins. Both men died during training exercises.

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“I need somebody to help me get answers on my son’s death,” Jesse Abrams’ mother Carrie Hale said.

On the night of August 10, 2019, Abrams made his way back to the CDA Technical Institute after drinking with his friends. He was a student diver at the school at the time.

His mother Carrie Hale said he was one of the top few in his class.

“He had pretty much mastered all of his online courses, even the master diver course,” Hale said.

However, shortly after he returned to the school, his classmate found him passed out outside the dorms. Witnesses told police his face was blue.

“And two hours later he was dead,” Hale said.

According to the police report, officers and emergency rescue personnel responded to CDA just before midnight that Saturday. The report states Abrams arrived at UF Health at 12:23 a.m. where he was pronounced dead shortly later at 12:54 a.m.

The Medical Examiner’s Office determined his death was caused by an accidental drug overdose. The report shows Abrams had fentanyl in his system, but Hale doesn’t believe it was as simple as that.

“I feel like something happened more than what was said,” Hale said.

Following his death, Hale reached out to the hospital for her son’s belongings and records.

“I want everything that he had on him. When I called UF Health, they told me that Jesse was never there,” Hale said.

She said it wasn’t until five weeks later that the hospital called her back saying they finally found Abrams’ records.

“He was listed under a completely different name. John Doe, I don’t know. They did find record of his belongings but they were gone,” Hale said.

She wants to know how he was mislabeled at the hospital.

“I wanted his things back. I wanted his phone, that was memories that I wanted. And they were never found,” Hale said.

We found in the original police report that he is incorrectly named. In it, it identifies him as Jesse Abrham.

We reached out to UF Health about the matter but were told they cannot comment on specific patient information without a consent form.

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According to the police report, Hale also asked the police about his belongings.

The report reads:

“I was contacted by Carrie Rush, the victim’s mother, who advised the victim’s phone, wallet and clothing could not be located. I contacted the Medical Examiner’s Office and spoke with MEI Bautista. He advised the victim had arrived with nothing other than body jewelry. He advised any clothing that had been with the victim would have remained with UF Health Security. Ms. Rush further advised she had spoken to the hospital administration and they were unable to locate any of the victim’s property.”

Former Miami-Dade homicide detective Pat Diaz said Abrams’ things should have been at the ME’s Office, not the hospital.

“They’re supposed to document it on the scene and take it to the Medical Examiner’s Office for release. That should be in the property evidence storage at the Medical Examiner’s Office. That’s in their protocol,” Diaz said.

To this day, she has never received anything that was on Abrams when he died. That includes his cell phone, which she backtracked the night he died.

According to the program, Abrams’ phone was at a liquor store while he was laying on the ground at CDA. Later that night, it ends up at the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

“So someone obviously took his phone off his person. I assume at the school,” Hale said.

According to the report, Hale then asked officers about her son’s phone. The report states officers were met with “negative results” when they inquired the sheriff’s office.

Past that, Hale said she had to file her son’s death certificate.

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According to the Florida Department of Health, the practitioner is supposed to sign off on the certificate and then it’s supposed to be filed by the funeral director within five days after death.

Hale said she had to go to the Attorney General’s office to learn that no one had reported his death to the state. She filed it eight days later.

“The funeral home in Florida should have had the death certificate and sent it to Indianapolis. It was definitely dropped by the funeral home,” Diaz said.

After seeing the recent news about two more student deaths, Hale said she wishes she spoke up earlier.

Most recently, IMCA, the International Marine Contractors Association, confirmed it has indefinitely suspended CDA’s membership.

Former CDA instructor Christopher Martin said IMCA is an internationally recognized agency.

“It’s a big deal because, like I said, IMCA has a lot of respect in the industry, a whole lot of respect,” Martin said.

IMCA Diving Manager Bryan McGlinchy said in an emailed statement:

“CDA Technical Institute, Inc. (CDA) was a DT1 category Member of IMCA. CDA was eligible for this category of IMCA Membership because it offers in-water basic diver training accredited by the Diver Certification Board of Canada (DCBC), a well-recognised oversight organisation in the offshore diving industry.

As a DT1 Member of IMCA CDA had access to the industry’s large library of best practice documents developed over the last 50 years which have been designed to improve the safety of offshore diving operations. IMCA itself has never accredited any CDA in-water diver training programmes. Nor has IMCA issued diver training certificates to graduates of CDA in-water diver training programmes.

IMCA is aware that there have been two fatal diving accidents during CDA diver training activities this year. In view of these tragic events and the withdrawal of CDA’s accreditation by DCBC, IMCA has recently suspended indefinitely the IMCA Membership of CDA.”

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McGlinchy expanded further on IMCA’s indefinite suspension:

“IMCA will not consider CDA for DT1 IMCA Membership again until:

1. US regulatory authorities have completed their investigations into the recent fatalities at the diving school and also completed any legal proceedings arising from those investigations; and

2. CDA once more offers in-water basic diver training accredited by a well-recognised offshore commercial diver training certifying body, such as the Diver Certification Board of Canada (DCBC); and

3. IMCA is satisfied that the school has appropriate management arrangements in place to teach its accredited offshore diving course(s) safely and to the required standard.”

Now years later, Hale is finally speaking out. She continues her push for answers and justice.

“It breaks my heart that I couldn’t stop this 2.5 years ago, that nobody would listen to me,” Hale said.

She wishes she could have done so earlier, but now, she’s finally being heard.

“I think they’ve caused enough harm in families across the country,” Hale said.

According to the 2019 police report, the case is cleared.

However, when Action News Jax reached out to the ME’s Office for additional documents, officials said the case is still considered an active investigation by a law enforcement agency and/or criminal prosecutor.

We reached out to the State Attorney’s Office who said they could not confirm nor deny if they had reopened the investigation.

We reached out to JSO for comment on the case. A spokesperson says JSO did not take possession of the deceased’s property, to include to his phone, during this investigation. They also said the case has been closed through JSO

Action News Jax also reached out to CDA and they have not responded.