Parents sue over drowning

By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 20, 2010; B5

The parents of a 6-year-old girl who died after being pulled from a District pool in June have filed a $75 million lawsuit alleging that the child's death could have been prevented had the lifeguard crew on duty been alert, better staffed and properly trained and that D.C. police trampled on their civil rights.

Edward and Deana Ballard, crying and standing next to a collection of photos of their daughter Yiana-Michelle, announced the lawsuit at a news conference Tuesday at the National Press Club. They say that their daughter's drowning at the Turkey Thicket Recreation Center in Northeast was a tragedy waiting to happen.

"We know that only one guard was in the chair when the incident happened and five were supposed to be focused on the pool," said the family's attorney, Erik Bolog.

The 20-page lawsuit, filed Oct. 7 in D.C. Superior Court, alleges that the D.C. government is guilty of "wrongful, reckless and outrageous negligence." The Ballards say that not enough lifeguards were present when the family visited June 23, that those present were not paying attention and that even after the child was found at the bottom of the pool, the CPR performed on Yiana-Michelle was inadequate.

"She was the youngest of six, and she was the starlight of all of our lives," Deana Ballard said of her daughter. "She loved life to the fullest."

The recreation center is run by the city's Department of Parks and Recreation.

D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles said he had seen the lawsuit.

"I know the grief of the family relating to this terrible tragedy," Nickles said. "The parents have every right to sue, but I don't believe there is merit for the claim for punitive damages."

The family is asking for $25 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages from the police department.

"After the District took the life of this child through negligence, they trampled on the civil rights of this family," Bolog said of the police. He said that after the incident, officers questioned the Ballards separately for four hours. They were also interviewed by Child Protection Services officials.

Nickles said the lawsuit and its allegations are being taken seriously. "We are going to look at this case carefully, and we are going to need to launch an investigation," he said.

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