Duck boat victims’ families hire attorney

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The families of Hungarian tourists Dora Schwendtner, 16, top left, and Szabolcs Prem, 20, have retained personal injury lawyers based out of New York. (Right photo: Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)

MOSONMAGYAROVAR, Hungary - Two New York lawyers, Peter and Holly Ronai, a husband and wife personal injury team with ties here, are representing the families of two local students who drowned in the July 7 Duck Boat accident.

The couple, whose office is in midtown Manhattan, arrived in Hungary July 2 for a vacation. They were in Budapest about to return home on July 8, when they received a call from Peter Schwendtner, whose daughter, Dora, died when the Duck Boat was hit a barge in the Delaware River, capsized, and sank.

A former client of the Ronai's referred the lawyer to the Schwendtner family, who then informed the family of the other victim, Szabolcs Prem, that Ronai was preparing legal action.

Ronai has been meeting with both families to discuss civil suits against those responsible for the collision of a 250-foot barge and the small sightseeing vessel, which pitched 37 people into the river.

"The families are devastated. They're completely devastated," Ronai said.

"There may be criminal proceedings as well," he said, "Dora's father wants the people responsible for this put in jail."

The parents of both students, he said, are "very let down."

In Hungary, Ronai said, America is often viewed as the most advanced and technologically capable country, a nation of laws and reason. His clients, he said, cannot fathom how such avoidable mistakes were made.

Ronai has family ties to the town where the students grew up and went to school. His parents, George and Susan, grew up in Budapest and escaped through Mosonmagyarovar over to Austria under harrowing circumstances during the 1956 revolution. By coincidence, on Thursday - the day after the duck Boat tragedy - they were scheduled to arrive for a visit to this town of 32,000, less than half an hour's drive from the borders of Austria and Slovakia, that was once part of the Hapsburg empire. Ronai's wife flew back alone last week, but he will be staying indefinitely to work with the victims' parents.

Contact staff writer Melissa Dribben at mdribben@phillynews.com or 717-350-2440.