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A U.S. District Court ruling states that the operator of Pappy's Marina in Johnson County must pay $300,000 in damages to nearby property owners for destroying their docks.

By Lesley Jenkins
star staff
ljenkins@starhq.com
The operator of Pappy's Marina in Johnson County has been ordered to pay $300,000 for destroying his neighbor's lakefront docks on Watauga Lake in September 2001, a U.S. District Court judge recently decided. The drawn out saga was described as "beyond the bounds of decency and regarded as atrocious" by Judge Thomas G. Hull.
Frank Petersilie operated the marina when he was sued in September 2001 by George Winkler, Floyd and Deidre Brown, James and Frances Thagard and Thomas and Susan Huntington, all of whom own property near the marina.
Hull ordered the defendant to pay $32,525 in actual damages to the property, $25,000 to each family for property use lost and $50,000 in punitive damages to each family. Petersilie was unavailable for comment but the Star was told by one of his employees that he plans to appeal the decision by Hull.
"The court finds that the plaintiffs are entitled to punitive damages from Petersilie individually based upon his intentional and malicious conduct," said Hull.
James Thagard commented on the decision: "My wife and I were relieved. We've been tied up in this for three years. Since the beginning of this, I have been down to the lake once. Thanks to my attorneys Art Fowler and Bill Cockett, justice was served." Thagard owned five lots of property and sold two lots to Winkler, who built a house on the property.
The plaintiffs presented evidence that Petersilie told them they should pay him rent to access the lake because he said he owned the waterfront easement rights on each lot, including lots owned by the plaintiffs.
However, Hull stated: "the plaintiffs are landowners whose deeds to their property contain the grant of an easement that provided for 'right of ingress to and from said lot and extending to the waters of Watauga Lake', and/or 'waterfront privileges ... with the free right of ingress and egress.'"
Petersilie, also principle shareholder and chief executive officer of Central Florida Capital Enterprises, also threatened the property owners earlier in 2001, telling them that their TVA permits were invalid. The permits allowed the owners to have floating docks and steps leading to the lake adjacent from their property.
"The court finds that TVA took custody and control of the land that comprises the flowage easement. It is also undisputed that each of the plaintiffs had received a permit from TVA to locate a dock on Watauga Lake adjacent to their property," court documents state.
Petersilie also built a large 100-foot dock in front of his neighbors, blocking their access to the waterfront and threatened to cut their docks loose and destroy the steps if they weren't removed by the plaintiffs in two weeks. On Sept. 7 or 8, Petersilie or his employees executed the threat, destroying the docks and the steps leading to them with chainsaws, leaving wooden fragments floating in Watauga Lake.
Frances Thagard testified that, after the steps and dock were demolished, she and her husband could not access the water from their lot. Hull stated in his decision, "At this location, you would have to repel down because it is impossible to climb down. The destruction of the steps and removal of the docks had a great deal of emotional impact on them; it was her husband's life."
James Thagard said what Petersilie had done had deeply affected him because the lots and access to the lake were for his retirement.
Petersilie contested he could not obtain liability insurance for the marina and permission to destroy the docks was given by Army Corps of Engineers. Hull said Petersilie was "an unreliable witness" and cited a lack of evidence in blaming the Army Corps of Engineers for the removal.
Hull also said, "Although Petersilie claimed numerous liabilities, he filed no proof that these liabilities presently exist. Once again, the court finds Petersilie to have absolutely no credibility, and from all of his actions, he apparently believes that he is above the law."
Punitive damages were awarded to each plaintiff by the judge, who also said: "In regard to the defendants' actions in causing their agents to enter on to TVA's flowage easement to deliberately destroy stairs with a chainsaw and remove the plaintiff's docks that were there with the permission of the TVA, this conduct was so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all bounds of decency, and is regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community."