STRATFORD — The widow of a professional skier from Bulgaria who drowned while kitesurfing off Long Beach West two years ago has filed a negligence lawsuit against the town in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport.

Veneta Popow, 37, of Peekskill, N.Y., filed the suit seeking in excess of $75,000 for the death of her husband, 48-year-old Stoil Popow on Jan. 21, 2006.

The search for Popow, one of the most intensive ever in the area, included U.S. Coast Guard helicopters from as far away as Cape Cod and covered about 260 square miles.

The drowning also touched off worldwide reaction, as people from around the globe contributed money so the Bulgarian native's wish to be buried in his homeland could be realized.

U.S. Coast Guard officials said water had apparently filled Popow's dry suit when his body was discovered about two miles southeast of Stratford Point.

New York lawyer Mario Biaggi, representing the claimant, said Friday a key point in the suit is that a short time prior to Popow's death Stratford officials were forced to rescue a man in the same location.

"Our research turned up evidence that another person nearly drowned in the same spot," Biaggi said. "We believe that should have alerted town officials to taking precautions to prevent a tragedy they knew could happen."

The Popows immigrated to the United States from Bulgaria about 17 years ago, shortly after their marriage.

``I begged him not to go into the water because it's winter,'' Veneta

Popow had said when interviewed by the Connecticut Post for a story that appeared in the newspaper Jan. 24, 2006. ``But he said that he had his dry suit and he would be well protected.

Biaggi said even if his client made those comments, "that still doesn't absolve the town of its negligence in Mr. Popow's death."

Named in the lawsuit are several current and former town firefighters, including Deputy Fire Chief Michael Hostetter, and Recreation Director Patricia Patusky.

The suit claims Stoil Popow's death was "a result of the negligence and carelessness" of the town in "failing to adequately warn the deceased and others of the hazardous and unsafe conditions present at Long Beach West and the surrounding waters of Long Island Sound."

The suit further states that Popow's death occurred because of Stratford's "failure to post warning signs, inviting the public to use Long Beach when there were no lifeguards on duty, failing to close the beach and or erect barriers limiting the public's access to the beach."

Also, the suit claims town firefighters efforts to rescue the drowning victim were carried out "with inadequate and or defective equipment incapable for completing a rescue in the conditions confronting the decedent."

Town Attorney Richard Buturla dismissed the suit's validity.

"We strongly deny all allegations and will rigorously defend the town in court," he said. "We do not believe there was any negligence on the part of the town."

Popow was a professional skier in his native Bulgaria and, after he drowned in a weekend kitesurfing accident, his widow and friends waged a worldwide effort to raise money to send his body back home for burial.

Biaggi said Friday that effort was successful and Popow was buried in his native land.

Friends and relatives described Popow at the time as an athletic man who could swim 15 miles.

Popow said after her husband drowned that he practiced kitesurfing more than three times a week. ``He was preparing himself to enter professional competitions,'' she said after his death, adding that her husband also "had experience in windsurfing and snowboarding. "

I can't begin to tell you how upset this makes me. Let me begin by saying that I consider Stoil's death a tragedy. He made several misjudgments that anyone could have made, including myself. There is no blame, or negligence, in his death.

I also windsurfed that same day. Wind forecasts were predicting a strong cold front from the North West that afternoon. We sailed from Stehle to take advantage of the wind shift. It was one of the best days sailing I remember.

My wife understands how much I love and respect the water. I hope she would never let some Lawyer talk her into filing a lawsuit that will jeopardize everyones beach access for decades.

I understand Stoil's wife is in pain. But this is not the answer.