11/21/06 — Mediation planned in wrongful death suit

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Mediation planned in wrongful death suit

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on November 21, 2006 1:45 PM

A mediation session has been scheduled for early next year in connection with a wrongful death lawsuit involving a 16-year-old Spring Creek High School student who drowned while on a band trip in April 2005.

Michael M. Jones, a certified mediator, will meet Jan. 22 with parties representing the Wayne County Board of Education and Jonathan and Jimmie Lewis, the parents of Antwan Lewis.

If mediation fails, a trial date has been set for March 12.

The Lewises filed the lawsuit in Wayne County Superior Court in June alleging that the school board was negligent in ensuring their son's safety and should be held responsible for his death.

Antwan Lewis 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.

The Lewises' lawsuit, filed by their attorney Edwin Braswell Jr., include wrongful death claims in North Carolina and South Carolina, a breach of contract and constitutional violations. The lawsuit claims the school board and Spring Creek High never developed a plan to ensure the students' safety on land or sea during the weekend competition, and that there were no written or oral guidelines given on how the students should be properly chaperoned.

Although there were chaperones during the South Carolina trip, the Lewises claim those chaperones did not increase supervision while students were swimming, and they did not develop any guidelines when those students swam in the ocean or the hotel pool. The lawsuit also claims there were no chaperones within close proximity of Antwan Lewis when he drowned April 10, 2005.

Representatives for the school board recently filed documents in defense of the allegations made by the Lewises. The Board of Education is pleading the affirmative defense of sovereign or governmental immunity as a bar to the allegations of the complaint.

The legal papers filed on behalf of the school board say that the school board acknowledges the South Carolina competition was considered a field trip as defined by the school board's policy code and that an assistant superintendent gave written approval that the students were allowed to go on the trip and be chaperoned by one or more people. But the school board denies that those chaperones were "to act, at least in part, for the benefit of the Wayne County Board of Education."

There was no plan made to provide a lifeguard for students who chose to swim in the ocean and no action was taken by the school board to provide one, the school board's defense claims. The defense also alleges Antwan Lewis went into the ocean when he knew he had little or no ability to swim, he should have known the currents posed a risk to him and he should have known the conditions were dangerous for swimming.