This Friday, April 27, 2012, photo shows the Aegean with crew members at the start of a 125-mile Newport Beach, Calif. to Ensenada, Mexico yacht race. (AP
This Friday, April 27, 2012, photo shows the Aegean with crew members at the start of a 125-mile Newport Beach, Calif. to Ensenada, Mexico yacht race. (AP Photo/newportbeach.patch.com, Susan Hoffman) (Susan Hoffman)

Two South Bay families who grieved together following the deaths of a captain and his crewman in a San Diego yacht race are headed for what might be a contentious court battle over money.

Already, family members have sparred on Facebook and in Internet postings following the filing of court paperwork that could lead to a wrongful death lawsuit.

"It is so sad to me that we can no longer share friendly brunches together," Anna Mavromati wrote in a blog posting last week.

Mavromati's father, Theofanis Mavromatis, 49, captained the boat found in pieces floating April 28 off the Coronado Islands.

"For the record, my dad is not responsible for anyone's death, including his own," the daughter said.

The hostile exchanges online occurred last week after the family of crewman Kevin Rudolph, 53, served the Mavromatis family with papers petitioning a court to administer Mavromatis' estate.

The men, along with William Reed Johnson Jr., 57, of Torrance, and Joseph Stewart, 64, of Bradenton, Fla., died during the Newport Beach-to- Ensenada regatta. Debris from Mavromatis' boat, The Aegean, was found scattered in waters about eight miles off the Mexican coast.

The U.S. Coast Guard continues to investigate the crash to determine what happened and has not issued an official report. US Sailing, the sport's governing body, issued its findings in June, saying the 37-foot Hunter sailboat ran aground on North Coronado Island. Mavromatis' family disputes the report as premature.

On Oct. 17, Mavromatis' survivors - his wife, Loren; daughters, Anna and Christina; and 11-year-old son Xan - were served with a "Notice of Petition to Administer Estate of Theofanis M. Mavromatis" and told they must appear Nov. 13 in a Los Angeles courtroom.

Randi Geffner, an attorney representing the wife of crewman Rudolph, Leslie Rudolph, said the court filing was part of a process to file a lawsuit.

"This is the first step in a wrongful death claim," Geffner said.

The law required service to all of Mavromatis' heirs, including his young son.

Anna Mavromati quickly took to Facebook to complain about the court filing.

"I am so sorry for the loss of Leslie Rudolph, Samantha Rudolph and Ryan Rudolph," Mavromati said. "I know how terrible their loss is because my family has been going through the same. That said, being served paperwork from the Rudolph family's lawyer today attempting to take control of my father's estate is a great additional stress to my family on top of everything else."

Leslie Rudolph responded, saying, "Anna, your mother is the one that said there is insurance on the boat and that I should go after it."

"Your mother and I did discuss it. This is the means to accomplish this, and we haven't `taken over the estate.' I am sorry for your loss too. I know first-hand how difficult this is and what a loss we've all suffered. These were wonderful husbands and fathers and they are missed terribly."

Rudolph added that it was she who reached out to members of the Mavromatis family and invited them to her home for dinner and brunch.

"I also packed up food for your family," she said. "Your family never invited us to your home."

Geffner said Mavromati misunderstood the paperwork, but acknowledged a lawsuit could be filed against her father's estate before April 28, 2013, the one-year anniversary of the crash.

The attorney said that because Mavromatis' family does not have a probate administrator, the filing on Oct. 11 seeks to have a neutral administrator named on Nov. 13.

Probate experts told the Daily Breeze it is likely that Mavromatis' family will contest the appointment of the neutral administrator, and that a judge likely will appoint Mavromatis' mother as administrator of her husband's affairs. That would enable the Rudolphs to file a claim against her husband's estate, which she will likely decline, opening the way for the lawsuit.

Geffner said the court filing is not an attempt to control Mavromatis' estate. She said Mavromatis' wife, Loren, suggested family members receive money from the boat's insurance. The court filing was part of that procedure.

"The creditors' claim has to be filed within a year of the death. It's been six months now. It was time to start the process if we need to go that way," Geffner said.

Geffner said the Rudolphs are not attempting to pit the families against each other. But, she said, a lawsuit could be coming.

"All we know conclusively is that there was a horrible tragedy. It was their boat," the attorney said. "We're all trying to piece together how that happened. Something went wrong, clearly. The information we have leads us to believe there may be several sources of negligence that caused this horrible tragedy - not just limited to the owners of the boat. There may be other negligent parties."

larry.altman@dailybreeze.com

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