Town in Washington state to pay $15 million to parents of 13-year-old who drowned at summer camp

SEATTLE (AP) — A town in Washington state will pay the parents of a teenage boy $15 million to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit they filed after he drowned during a town summer camp outing.

Darrell “DJ” McCutcheon, Jr., disappeared under water in Florence Lake on Anderson Island southwest of Seattle on July 15, 2022, according to Pierce County Court records.

Brett Rosen, an attorney for the McCutcheon family, told The Seattle Times this week that Steilacoom agreed to pay $15 million to settle their lawsuit in late April.

A camp employee had left 13-year-old DJ and other teenagers at the lake that day while he went to pick up another group of children and a co-worker at the ferry station nearby, court records show.

DJ, who had never swum in open water before and was not given a life jacket, was underwater for about six minutes before bystanders rescued him and began performing CPR. He was flown to a hospital and died that day, court records said.

Earnest Roberts, who was walking on the beach at the time, swam out and spotted the 13-year-old about 10 feet (3 meters) under the water and pulled him to the surface.

“If he was adequately and property supervised as part of the summer camp group … that boy would not have died,” Roberts said, according to court records.

The boy’s parents, Tamicia and Darrell McCutcheon Sr., sued the town for negligence.

“The most important thing for them is to never have this happen to another child,” Rosen said.

Paul Loveless, Steilacoom’s administrator, and Amanda Kuehn, its attorney, declined to talk to the newspaper, citing ongoing litigation because final dismissal paperwork had not yet been filed.

In a January court filing, the town sought to dismiss the couple’s wrongful-death claim, saying Tamicia McCutcheon had signed a waiver accepting risks including injury or death from participating in activities in or near water.

The couple’s attorneys argued the “generic release” form did not describe any situations where the children would be taken to open water.

The McCutcheons’ attorneys also said that camp employees planned the outing knowing they would have to transport the campers from the ferry station in two groups, leaving one by the water. That decision violated a policy in the town’s staff training manual which said campers “must be under the supervision of a staff person at all times during program hours,” court records show.

The McCutcheons plan to use the settlement money to start a nonprofit dedicated to promoting summer camp aquatic safety and to create scholarships in their son’s name, Rosen said.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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