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County Denies Negligence in Toddlers’ Pool Tragedy

Times Staff Writer

Hit with a $10-million negligence claim, county officials on Tuesday defended their oversight of day-care centers and asserted they were not at fault in a March 30 pool accident in North Tustin that left one toddler dead and two others with severe brain damage.

“We followed the law,” said Dianne Edwards, chief of day-care licensing for the county’s Social Services Agency. “The responsibility lies with the care providers and with the parents whose children were placed there, not with the county.”

While under the care of Orvel and Diana Brooks at their North Tustin home, three children, the oldest 22 months, fell into the family pool. One child later died and two others suffered serious injuries. Unlicensed as day-care providers, the Brooks’ had twice been ordered by the county to close their operation because of inadequate fencing and debris at their home.

In a complaint filed Friday with the county, which will likely lead to a lawsuit, Timothy and Sandra Polsfoot, the parents of a girl left comatose in the tragedy, accused the county of doing nothing to prevent the accident and of failing to follow up on its orders to the Brooks to shut down their child-car operation.

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The Polsfoots also filed a lawsuit this week in Orange County Superior Court seeking unspecified damages against the Brooks. The Brooks declined to comment, according to a family friend who answered the telephone Tuesday.

Even as the Polsfoots acted on their legal claims, they received a medical report Tuesday indicating “next to no hope” that their 19-month-old daughter will ever regain consciousness, their lawyer said.

‘Enormous Medical Bills’

“The doctors are just unable to say that (Melissa Polsfoot) is ever going to come out of it,” said Santa Ana attorney Harold Horwitz. “She may reach her life expectancy, but she’ll probably be in a coma, and the medical bills will be enormous.”

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As a result, the Polsfoots are seeking $5 million in medical expenses from the county, and an additional $5 million in general damages.

Horwitz said county officials “should have shut the place down or taken some affirmative action rather than just sitting on their duffs and saying that it’s no big deal.”

The attorney said he expects the county to reject the Polsfoots’ claim, which would then lead to the filing of a lawsuit in Superior Court.

County’s Actions Defended

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Edwards, the county day-care administrator, defended the county’s actions in not closing the Brooks’ service after issuing cease-and-desist orders.

“That is a legal and time-consuming process and it doesn’t ensure that the providers stop giving care,” she said. “If someone is trying to circumvent the system . . . it is literally impossible--given state enforcement laws and our current staffing--to close these people down.”

The second survivor of the pool accident, 22-month-old Jonathan Weston of North Tustin, remained in stable condition Tuesday at United Western Medical Center-Santa Ana, a nursing supervisor said.

The child who died was Arthur Griese, 14 months.

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