The federal government, while acknowledging no wrongdoing, has settled for $3.5 million a lawsuit brought by a California family whose 9-year-old son died in an accident at Lassen Volcanic National Park.
The settlement brought to an end a legal battle that raised evidence of a coverup by Lassen Volcanic officials and which drew harsh criticism on the National Park Service by a federal judge.
Tommy Botell, 9, was crushed to death and his sister, "K.B.," injured when a retaining wall along the Lassen Peak Trail that they were sitting on collapsed on July 29, 2009. The children's parents filed a wrongful death and personal injury lawsuit against the federal government in June 2011.
During some of the early stages of the case, a U.S. Magistrate Judge Gregory G. Hollows concluded that Lassen Volcanic officials "purposely destroyed material evidence" in the case. In his ruling, the magistrate said Lassen Volcanic Superintendent Darlene Koontz violated Park Service policies by ordering the retaining wall to be dismantled before a special agent for the agency could inspect it as part of an investigation into the boy's death.
While park officials maintainted that was done for the public's safety, a federal judge later adopted the magistrate's findings and recommendations.
Word of the settlement surfaced Wednesday. In a statement released by their attorneys, the Botells said:
“This was a horrific event that no family should have to endure. Our grief and loss were compounded by the refusal of the Park Service to accept responsibility and to act responsibly during the lawsuit.”
National Park Service officials had no immediate comment today when asked about the settlement.
The Lassen Peak Trail runs 2.5 miles one-way to the top of the 10,457-foot peak. Much of the mountain is barren, lacking of trees and other vegetation that could help stabilize the flanks. The trail begins at the peak parking area at an elevation of 8,500 feet and zig-zags across this steep and rocky landscape to the summit. There were 50-60 people hiking the trail when the wall collapsed, and some came to the family's aid.