SACRAMENTO (AP) — Officials at a national park in Northern California knew of the dangers posed by a retaining wall that gave way and crushed a 9-year-old boy to death, but failed to close it as required by their safety program, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley granted summary judgment Tuesday to Tommy Botell's family, who sued the federal government after Tommy's 2009 death at Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Nunley dismissed the government's argument that the safety program that called for the wall's closure was not mandatory, but at the park's discretion.
Steve Campora, an attorney for the Botells, told the San Francisco Chronicle they will return to court Sept. 16 to determine damages. The family sought $9 million when they filed the lawsuit last year.
Lauren Horwood, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of California, said the office could not comment on the decision. The office is representing the government in the case.
In July 2009, Tommy and his 13-year-old sister were hiking a trail ascending 2,000-foot Lassen Peak and sat down to take photographs atop the rock-and-mortar retaining wall.
The wall crumbled, and a boulder weighing at least 400 pounds crushed the boy, according to the family. Other boulders injured his sister, who is identified in the suit only by initials.
Tommy's siblings and his parents, Thomas and Jennifer Botell, witnessed the tragedy.
In his ruling, Nunley said the government did not dispute that prior to Tommy's death, Lassen park officials were concerned about the dangers posed to the public by mortared retaining walls.
Nunley previously found the National Park Service negligent in the case at the recommendation of a magistrate judge who determined that officials at the park intentionally demolished the remaining portions of the retaining wall that crushed Tommy before investigators could examine it.
The government argued that workers knocked down what remained of the wall shortly after the accident because they felt it posed a danger to other hikers.