The family of a 13-year-old drowning victim who was pulled to the surface of a Murrieta high school pool by his classmates, with little to no help from lifeguards, Tuesday detailed an $11 million settlement with the Murrieta Valley Unified School District.
The suit against the district was filed in September 2016, roughly three months after Alex Pierce was left brain dead. He taken off life support a month later.
“Alex would be 16 years old today if the most basic safety protocols and procedures were in place at Murrieta Valley Unified School District on June 3, 2016,” said Rahul Ravipudi, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs.
“We are proud of the Pierce family for remaining vigilant in their quest to seek justice for Alex, and we’re hopeful that bringing these deficiencies to light will force school districts throughout California to re-evaluate and update their safety protocols to protect our children,” he said.
Murrieta Valley Unified School District Superintendent Patrick Kelly submitted a letter of apology to the plaintiffs on the part of the district, expressing sorrow for the “pain … grief and loss you are no doubt still feeling.”
“Although a settlement has been reached in this case, we understand that no amount of money will make up for the loss of your son,” Kelly wrote. “In the aftermath of Alex’s death, our district continues to examine our policies, procedures and safety protocols regarding school safety to make sure we have the most effective systems in place.”
The school district did not admit liability or fault.
Terms of the out-of-court settlement were reached last month ,just as the case was scheduled to go to trial before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Angel Bermudez. In addition to the $11 million payout — covered by the district’s insurance — to the victim’s parents, Sabrina and Rodriguez Pierce, the district agreed to revise its School Safety Plan to prevent a similar tragedy from re-occurring, the plaintiffs said.
Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, who has two sons involved in competitive water sports, is working on legislation that would require safety and rescue training at all schools with pools in California. The plaintiffs said she intends to name the bill in Alex’s honor.
Alex was taking part in a June 3, 2016, party at Vista Murrieta High School, sponsored by McElhinney Middle School, when he slipped beneath the water unnoticed while swimming in the deep end of the competition pool at Vista Murrieta High School. The family’s attorneys said the victim remained submerged almost two minutes before several of his seventh-grade classmates spotted him, dove under and retrieved him, bringing him unconscious to the surface.
Two teenage lifeguards, who had been hired by the booster club, then placed the boy on a backboard, and for the next seven minutes, floated him around the pool, unable to decide what to do next, according to the plaintiffs.
They alleged that the chief swim and dive coach for Vista Murrieta High School, Keith Good, stood by and did not make any effort to initiate CPR. According to MVUSD, Good did not train the nine lifeguards on duty, and he was not there to supervise them.
When paramedics arrived, they lifted Alex onto the pool deck and attempted life-saving treatment to revive the boy, who by that time was clinically brain dead, according to the attorneys.
Good later said in a deposition that he thought the lifeguards had a handle on the situation, and he did not want to “second-guess” their decision-making, according to the plaintiffs. He remains employed as a photography teacher, MVUSD spokeswoman Monica Gutierrez said.
Alex was hospitalized in San Diego, where he remained unresponsive and comatose until his family decided to take him off of life support on July 7, 2016.
A Murrieta police investigation later determined that the pool party had been inadequately staffed, and those lifeguards observing the activity lacked experience in high-stress situations, with none ever having performed an actual rescue.
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