06/18/06 — Family of student who drown sue school board

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Family of student who drown sue school board

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on June 18, 2006 2:06 AM

The parents of a Spring Creek High School student who drowned last year during a field trip in South Carolina have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Wayne County Board of Education accusing the school district of negligence.

Antwan Lewis, a 16-year-old sophomore, was swimming with fellow band mates during a break in a high school band competition in Myrtle Beach, S.C., last April when a wave allegedly hit him and his friends and carried Lewis further into the Atlantic Ocean, where he later drowned.

Earlier this week, his parents, Jonathan and Jimmie Lewis, filed a lawsuit in Wayne County Superior Court alleging the county's Board of Education was negligent in ensuring their son's safety and should be held responsible for his death.

The complaints within the lawsuit, filed by the Lewis' attorney Edwin Braswell Jr., include wrongful death claims in North Carolina and South Carolina, a breach of contract and constitutional violations.

Since the school board has "general control and supervision of all matters pertaining to Spring Creek High School," the lawsuit claims the school board should have ensured the students on the band competition field trip were properly chaperoned, provided a lifeguard and developed guidelines for the conduct of students and chaperones during the competition, the lawsuit states.

Also, since the competition was considered a field trip, the board defines a field trip as "a student or a group of students leaving the school campus under sponsorship of the school and under the supervision of a school employee or employees to extend the educational experiences consistent with the general goals and objectives of the total school program."

Any overnight or out-of-state field trip must have the approval of the superintendent or an assistant superintendent, according to the lawsuit. An associate superintendent gave approval for the field trip on the condition that the trip must be approved by the high school's advisory council, the students must be provided with suitable transportation and be properly chaperoned by one or more adults.

The lawsuit alleges that the school never developed a plan to ensure the students' safety during the weekend competition on land or sea. The lawsuit says there were also no written or oral guidelines given on how the students should be properly chaperoned.

According to the lawsuit, many Spring Creek band members swam throughout the weekend at the hotel's swimming pool and in the Atlantic Ocean. While the students were swimming, the lawsuit says the chaperones did not increase supervision, did not make any rules about whether the students should swim and didn't have any guidelines for when the students did swim.

While Lewis was in the Atlantic Ocean swimming with friends on April 10, the lawsuit says there were no chaperones within close proximity. Also, before Lewis drowned, the lawsuit alleges two chaperones were on the beach, but left to go to the balcony of a third-floor hotel room.

According to the lawsuit, one chaperone later said that the conditions outside that day were "freezing and overcast" but no chaperones told the students to stop swimming.

Lewis' parents are seeking compensation for the pain and suffering of losing their son, reasonable funeral expenses and "the present monetary value of the decedent to the persons entitled to receive the damages recovered," the lawsuit says.

Phone calls to the school board's attorney, Jack Edwards, were not returned in time for this report.

A court date has not been set for the Wayne County Superior Court.

-- A lawsuit represents only one side of a claim. Liability is determined only when the matter is adjudicated in a court of law.