The United States has agreed to pay a Tehama County family $3.5 million to resolve a lawsuit over the 2009 death of 9-year-old Tommy Botell when a wall in Lassen Volcanic National Park that had not been maintained crumbled from under the boy and rolled over him as he tumbled down an embankment while his horrified family watched.
In scathing findings and recommendations, U.S. Magistrate Judge Gregory G. Hollows said park Superintendent Darlene Koontz knew of the wall’s dangerous condition and ignored warnings from park maintenance personnel that it should be repaired. After the incident that took Tommy’s life, Koontz was responsible for the destruction of relevant evidence, and she lied under oath in a deposition taken as part of the family’s lawsuit, Hollows found.
The government was ultimately stripped of its defenses by U.S. District Judge Troy L. Nunley.
“The conduct of the National Park Service and its employees both leading up to this tragedy and during the litigation make me ashamed that they represent the United States of America,” said Steve Campora, lead attorney for the Botells.
U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner, whose office handled the National Park Service’s defense, said Wednesday the incident was a tragedy for the Botells and the agency, and added that he is happy the lawsuit has been settled.
“As the settlement agreement indicates, it is in no way intended to be, and should not be construed as, an admission of fault or wrongdoing on the part of Park Service employees,” Wagner said.
Call The Bee’s Denny Walsh, (916) 321-1189.