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Settlement in boy’s death at Lassen Park

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POSTED February 20, 2014 8:08 p.m.

SACRAMENTO  (AP) — The federal government will pay $3.5 million to the family of a 9-year-old boy crushed to death by a retaining wall at a national park in Northern California.

The lawsuit settlement comes after a federal judge stripped the government of its defenses following findings that Darlene Koontz, the supervisor of Lassen Volcanic National Park, knew the wall was dangerous yet didn’t fix it, according to The Sacramento Bee (http://bit.ly/1fBTgx4).

Tommy Botell was killed during a 2009 outing when a retaining wall that had deteriorated from lack of maintenance gave way. A boulder weighing at least 400 pounds crushed the child.

Tommy’s siblings and his parents, Thomas and Jennifer Botell, witnessed the tragedy. One of his sisters was also injured in the accident.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Gregory G. Hollows said Koontz tried to cover up evidence of the wall’s poor condition after the incident, allowing evidence to be destroyed and lying under oath during a deposition.

A federal district judge last year ruled in favor of Botell’s family, saying officials knew of the dangers posed by the wall, but failed to close off the area as required by the park’s safety program.

Koontz is still the park’s superintendent.

“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,” the family said in a statement.

U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner told the newspaper that he is happy to have the matter behind him, and that it was a tragedy for both parties.

“As the settlement agreement indicates,” Wagner said, “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.”

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