A Northern California family who watched a retaining wall give way and crush their 9-year-old son to death in Lassen Volcanic National Park several years ago has settled with the federal government for $3.5 million.
During a family outing in 2009, Tommy Botell Jr. was sitting on a wall near a hiking trail with his sister when it collapsed. Sections of the wall fell on them as the two children tumbled about 30 feet and their parents struggled to grab them.
“Mommy, I can’t see,” Tommy told to his mother as he died in her arms, according to the Sacramento Bee.
The wall had deteriorated and rolled over Tommy and crushed his brain stem.
Perceived unethical conduct clouded the lawsuit filed on behalf of Botell’s family. At one point, U.S. Magistrate Judge Gregory G. Hollows said park Supt. Delores Koontz did not fix the wall despite knowing it was dangerous, and then tried to cover up her mistakes after Tommy Botell’s death.
“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,” according to a family statement issued through an attorney.
Nonetheless, U.S. Atty. Benjamin Wagner said that “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.”