The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to pay out $2.125 million to the family of a 16-year-old autistic boy who drowned during a 2014 field trip in East Los Angeles.
Cesar Ortiz and Claudia Herrera filed a wrongful death/negligence lawsuit against the Los Angeles Unified School District in August 2014 and later sued Los Angeles County, which operated the pool where Eric Ortiz drowned. The boy’s full-time teacher’s aide and the school’s principal were also named as defendants.
Eric, a special needs student at Garfield High School, was on a school-sponsored field trip at Atlantic Avenue Park when he was pulled fully dressed from the deep end of an Olympic-sized swimming pool on June 4, 2014.
Witnesses told authorities that the teen went under the water, resurfaced and took a breath, and then sank down again, according to a sheriff’s lieutenant at the time.
According to board documents, multiple lifeguards were at the scene and two began performing chest compressions and administering CPR after pulling the boy from the bottom of the pool. A third tried unsuccessfully to set up rescue equipment to deliver oxygen.
Paramedics arrived and took over rescue efforts, but he never regained consciousness and was declared dead a short time later at Monterey Park Hospital.
The family’s suit alleged that the teen, who did not know how to swim, was not properly supervised. His parents signed a permission slip to visit the park, but were not told that the visit included a trip to the pool, according to their attorney.
The corrective action plan approved by the board and designed to prevent a similar tragedy concluded that a failure to follow pool policies, including a swim test for pool guests, was a root cause of the boy’s death. Another problem was insufficient training on the use of emergency rescue equipment and a lack of available equipment.
Before being allowed into the deep end of the pool or diving boards, swimmers at county pools are expected to pass a swim test administered by a lifeguard and are then issued identifying wrist bands.
Since Eric’s death, the Department of Parks and Recreation has installed defibrillators at all pool facilities and all lifesaving staff have been properly trained to use the devices and other rescue equipment, according to board documents.
The department hired an outside firm to audit its operations and has since transitioned from a decentralized structure and created a new position to manage lifeguard training and related policies and practices.
Under the new structure, lifeguards participate in daily in-service training sessions and department policy requires that visiting groups designate “water watchers” to actively monitor dependent minors.
The department has suspended LAUSD’s use of all county facilities until an indemnity agreement with the county is reached. The county earlier filed a cross-complaint against the LAUSD, alleging that the district is obligated to reimburse the department for legal expenses and settlement costs because it failed to honor an earlier indemnification agreement. That negotiation is ongoing, according to the corrective action plan.