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Skydiving instructor ordered to pay for fondling woman during jump

February 8, 1997 GMT

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ A skydiving instructor has been ordered to pay $90,000 to a woman who accused him of fondling her when they floated to earth while sharing a parachute.

Erin Crabtree accused J.C. Cockrell of touching her breasts during a tandem jump, in which a beginner is harnessed in front of an instructor.

``It was my first and last,″ she said of the jump.

Crabtree, 21, said she and a friend signed up for the jump at Cockrell’s Carolina Skydiving Institute in Climax, N.C., on Sept. 3, 1995.

She filed suit, charging that Cockrell touched her inappropriately during ground training and then made sexually explicit remarks in the airplane while waiting to jump.

Crabtree said the fondling occurred after the parachute opened, when her hands were holding the parachute lines above her head and Cockrell’s hands were free.

Crabtree’s lawyer, Tom Bush, said he took the matter to court after Cockrell failed to respond to an initial complaint.

Then Cockrell failed to appear in court, and Judge John Gardner entered a judgment against him, ruling that Cockrell had committed sexual battery and awarding Crabtree $15,000 in compensatory damages and $75,000 in punitive damages.

There was also no comment from Cockrell on Saturday; he did not return a phone call to his business and no home phone number was listed.

Crabtree, a student at Wake Forest University, said she hopes the penalty gets Cockrell’s attention.

``That’s why I sued,″ she said. ``I wanted to make sure it’s something he won’t do again.″