The mother of an autistic 15-year-old boy who died in a golf cart crash on a school campus in September has filed a lawsuit against Orange Unified School District alleging negligence, attorneys for the family announced Thursday.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday on behalf of Micaela Sanchez Corona, alleges negligence in watching her son Manny Perez and in the training of his caretakers.
Perez jumped onto an idling golf cart Sept. 9 and slammed it into a railing on the campus of El Modena High School, where he attended special education classes.
Perez sustained “significant chest and abdominal trauma and later that day died from his injuries,” according to the lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court.
“This senseless tragedy resulted from the district’s negligence in not only failing to properly supervise and control Manny, but also failing to secure and disable the golf cart before Manny — who suffers from severe autism and behavior issues — was able to get inside and endanger himself and others,” the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit further alleges that the district was “negligent and reckless in their hiring, training, supervision” of those hired to watch the student.
Supt. Gunn Marie Hansen has previously contradicted claims that Perez was not closely watched by his caretakers on campus.
“At no time was Manny left unattended,” Hansen said. “His one-to-one aide and a second aide were always next to him or near him as he moved through campus.”
The district has 26 electric golf carts that are used for a variety of reasons on campus, which sometimes includes transporting students from a classroom to an office, Hansen said. Manny had taken rides on a golf cart in the past, she said.
“As they approached the parked golf cart, Manny ran ahead about 10 feet to get into the passenger seat,” Hansen said. “He stayed in the passenger seat for approximately 30 seconds even though the aides were both trying to persuade him to get out and go into the cafeteria for the nutrition break.”
Instead of dragging the teen off the cart, the aides were following standard protocol with “verbal de-escalation prompts and redirection,” Hansen said.
The aides did not know the cart was idling, but when Manny punched the gas, both aides “aggressively tried to stop the vehicle from moving forward,” Hansen said.
“One aide even physically held onto the back of the cart, as it was moving,” Hansen said.
Manny did not appear seriously injured initially, Hansen said.
“He was conscious and complained of stomach pain,” and a nurse decided the school should call 911, Hansen said.
“Within four minutes of placing that call, paramedics arrived at the school and then transported him to the hospital,” Hansen said.
Robert Glassman, the family’s attorney, previously told City News Service that Manny had the mental capacity of a 3- to 5-year-old and would not have understood the danger of riding a golf cart.
Manny “couldn’t appreciate that he was in danger and he couldn’t appreciate he may be endangering others… and the school knew that and they should have taken greater care and caution to keep him safe and protect him against these known risks,” Glassman said.