$3.5 Million Settlement For Family Whose Son Was Crushed To Death At Lassen Volcanic National Park

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.

Comments

In true Park Service fashion, I'm sure Darlene Koontz will be on the fast track to a promotion, if she hasn't already.

In five minutes the Yosemite Mafia will be here talking about broad brushes.

Gee, PS, it's already been five minutes.

Rick

This story is sad on so many levels.

Its sad for the poor young man that was killed.

Its sad that the park managers/government couldn't stand up and let the evidence lead where it would.

And its sad that a family would extort $3.5 million from the US government. You can't and shouldn't measure the grief from loss in dollars. If this had been a working father with financial obligations to support a family, then maybe yes, but the parents had no monetary right to nor dependence on the future earnings of their son.

Ec...

I am in agreement with you all the way - until you use the term 'extort' and the rest of that paragraph.

until you use the term 'extort' and the rest of that paragraph.

What would you call it?

From a Merced Sun Star story on the case:

The judge also cited a draft report written after the accident by a Park Service landscape architect that said "one could put a boot on top of the wall and kick it down." Koontz ordered the comment stricken from the report, the judge related, and added, "The draft report was destroyed and has not been produced in this litigation."

One park employee testified that she saw Chief Ranger John Roth shredding documents that she had collected to send to the Botell attorneys in response to a discovery request.

Roth brought the documents to meet with Koontz and review them after Jessica Compton delivered the documents to him, and just before he returned to the office, where Jessica observed him shredding some of them," [Judge] Hollows wrote.

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/2013/03/22/2895302/judge-finds-national-park-service.html

Thanks for that link, PS. Some awfully smelly stuff there.

The family deserves the 3.5 million dollars (net to them is probably less than half), they deserve an apology from the National Park Service and the family deserves the right to witness park employees being held accountable. The family and their attorneys will have to do with the financial settlement paid by the American tax payers while the National Park Srervice and park employees walk unscathed.

Tim, I agree. I am not an attorney, perhaps those that are can comment, but I believe the justice here is "to make whole", and that means financial. It is disconcerting to learn that two Federal Judges found issues with "tampering of evidence" ( I believe that is a felony) and false declarations. These are serious violations and at some point the agency needs to be transparent and forthright in commenting on the case and actions taken to reprimand those involved. Like the Danno and the Billy Malone cases, this stonewalling only adds to the distrust and lack of creditability of the agency. Additionally, it encourages a culture that allows this lack of respect of the public trust to continue, both by the public and agency employees.

The official just released NPS response to this case:

http://www.parkadvocate.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/NotAshamed.jpg

PS, went to the link, but could get the logo.

That is their response R. Mackie, They are not ashamed. Every time you read about something like this just remember that logo they so proudly displayed during the shut down. They are truly shameless.

PS, 10-4

but I believe the justice here is "to make whole"

You think money "makes whole" for the loss of their son? I don't.

EC, I don't believe anyone here has stated that money would make the family "whole". The reference "to make whole" is a common term used in civil cases, which this was, where the objective of the process is to, as much as many be possible, make the aggrieved person/s as whole as possible. About the only recourse available in a civil case is a financial award. I truely do not believe that anyone on this site or in the courts, thinks that money makes up for the lose of a loved one

I truely do not believe that anyone on this site or in the courts, thinks that money makes up for the lose of a loved one

Then why $3.5 mil. why not $35 mil or $35 billion? Its $3.5 mil because thats what the family was able to extort.

I have no problem with the "make whole doctorine". If you have a financial loss, it should be made whole (assuming there is liability). As I first said, if it were a father supporting a family, then his family could be made whole by replacing the income that would have supported them. In this case, there was no expected income coming to the family, there was no financial loss. Money can't make whole anything and to demand it is merely extortion.

Per Wiki...

===
Extortion is an operation in which money and/or property is transported illegally. Refraining from doing harm is sometimes euphemistically called protection. Extortion is commonly practiced by organized crime groups. The actual obtainment of money or property is not required to commit the offense. Making a threat of violence which refers to a requirement of a payment of money or property to halt future violence is sufficient to commit the offense. Exaction refers not only to extortion or the unlawful demanding and obtaining of something through force,[1] but additionally, in its formal definition, means the infliction of something such as pain and suffering or making somebody endure something unpleasant.[2]

Extortion is distinguished from robbery. In robbery, whether armed or not, the offender takes property from the victim by the immediate use of force or fear that force will be immediately used (as in the classic line, "Your money or your life.") Extortion, which is not limited to the taking of property, involves the verbal or written instillation of fear that something will happen to the victim if he or she does not comply with the extortionist's will. Another key distinction is that extortion always involves a verbal or written threat, whereas robbery does not. In United States federal law, extortion can be committed with or without the use of force and with or without the use of a weapon.

In blackmail, which always involves extortion, the extortionist threatens to reveal information about a victim or his family members that is potentially embarrassing, socially damaging, or incriminating unless a demand for money, property, or services is met.

The term extortion is often used euphemistically to refer to usury or to price-gouging, though neither is legally considered extortion. It is also often used loosely to refer to everyday situations where one person feels indebted against their will, to another, in order to receive an essential service or avoid legal consequences.

Neither extortion nor blackmail require a threat of a criminal act, such as violence, merely a threat used to elicit actions, money, or property from the object of the extortion. Such threats include the filing of reports (true or not) of criminal behavior to the police, revelation of damaging facts (such as pictures of the object of the extortion in a compromising position), etc
===

It was a court judgement.

Thanks Rick, the wiki pretty well describes the situation.

And no it wasn't a court judgement, it was a settlement. The family threatened them and they payed up to make the threat go away.

Well, you just have a merry old time explaining your personal opinion to the parents of the dead kid.

I believe a major reason we have this is because there are so many that have their axes to grind over local problems with the NPS and they grasp at anything at all to attack the agency. This leads to a bunker mentality. That is why we have this culture in the NPS that feels it must either rally to the side of or hush up/ignore this kind of thing.

Many see this as some kind of Trojan horse to bash the NPS, not an internal cancer that is worse than anything from the outside.

With this kind of unchecked culture of corruption eventually some really big media frenzy event will happen and the agency won't be able to just brush it aside "without admitting wrong doing"

One aspect of this that’s just occurred to me is that Superintendent Koontz may not be the only one responsible for destroying evidence. In the Judges ruling the actions of Lassen's Chief Ranger John Roth seems pretty close to obstruction of justice. One park employee who was given responsibility for gathering documents requested by the Botell’s attorneys testified that Roth took those documents into a meeting with Koontz then after the meeting shredded some of them before they were delivered to the Botell’s attorneys.

It seems to me that any future criminal case this ranger is involved in that goes to trial the first thing the defense attorneys will do is to bring up Roth’s destruction of evidence in the Botell case. So by trying to cover it’s rear end and keep this guy in a law enforcement position they may we be jeopardizing future prosecutions.

I think you're right in this, and it will all come down - who to charge, what to charge them with, etc - all come down to the decision and discretion of the appropriate prosecutor. Probably federal, rather than local?