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WRONGFUL DEATHS Officials, families settle suit



Published: Sat, April 23, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Fort Worth officials consider settling lawsuit over four drownings.

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Nearly a year after four out-of-town visitors drowned in the Fort Worth Water Gardens, the city council is expected Tuesday to approve paying $750,000 to settle its part of a lawsuit filed by the victims' families.

"I think this is the right thing," City Manager Charles Boswell said. "I'm glad we've got it settled."

Four Chicago residents -- Myron Dukes, 39; his daughter, Lauren, 8; his son, Christopher, 13; and a family friend, Juanitrice Deadmon, 11 -- drowned in the Active Pool on June 16. Investigators said one of the girls apparently slipped into the water and the others died trying to save her.

About three months later, their families sued the city and 21 companies and individuals, seeking more than $1 million on each of 72 counts.

OK with compromise

Chicago attorney Chris Ford, who is representing the Dukes and Deadmon families, said he recently met with city officials and is comfortable with the settlement.

"We wanted to try to do the right thing," he said. "This was a logical compromise, and it allows us to focus our case on those we believe have serious responsibilities."

The city's settlement does not include an admission of liability and allows the city to avoid a protracted legal dispute, officials said.

"It's a very prudent financial move for the city," City Attorney David Yett said. "We were looking at a very lengthy and probably very expensive process."

The council is scheduled to vote on the proposal during a meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday at city hall.

City officials initially offered to settle out of court for $500,000, the maximum they said they were allowed under a state law that limits governmental liability. The city withdrew the offer after the lawsuit was filed.

Council members' views

At least one council member expressed reservations about approving the offer.

Councilman Clyde Picht said he believes the city should have stayed with the $500,000 offer, but added he will probably vote for the settlement because it appears to have the support of a council majority.

Council members Becky Haskin and Donavan Wheatfall said they support the settlement.

"It's a really sad situation and it will be good to get the city's part resolved," Haskin said.

Wheatfall said the city should work at preventing future accidents.

Ford said the $750,000 was a compromise that includes court costs and $5,000 in fees to cover costs for an attorney to represent Cameron Deadmon, Juanitrice's brother.

The money would come from the city's risk management fund, which is similar to an internal insurance fund.

"I think the city of Fort Worth, their mayor and legal counsel have been extremely dignified and straightforward in their dealings with us," Ford said. "I believe this is a fair resolution."

If approved, the city could be dropped from the suit within a month, Yett said.

Court action will continue against the other entities, Ford said. No other settlement offers have been made, he continued.

The suit touches nearly everyone involved with the gardens since it opened in 1974, including the Amon G. Carter Foundation, which paid for the $6 million park and donated it to the city, and the architects and builders.




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