The mother of the North Cobb High School student who drowned while on a school trip in Belize last year is suing the Cobb School District and the Cobb County Government among others.
Adell Forbes, mother of the late Tomari Jackson, filed the lawsuit in Cobb State Court on March 24.
Tomari, a 14-year-old North Cobb High freshman, and 31 other North Cobb High School magnet students traveled to Belize on a weeklong study-abroad trip in February 2016. During the school-sponsored trip, Tomari drowned in the Sibun River in the Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, a nonprofit education and training center.
The lawsuit accuses the Cobb County School District, the Cobb County Government, the Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize, the sanctuary’s owner and six adult chaperones of “willful, wanton and unconscionable disregard” and negligence that caused Jackson’s death.
“Even though the Sibun River is wild, nearly all of the chaperones and Monkey Bay personnel spent their time in the water swimming, and only supervised intermittently,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit said it is unknown if the Cobb School District employees had been trained in supervision techniques, lifeguard training, CPR and first aid.
Matthew Miller, the owner of Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, and his staff were negligent because the employees failed to properly check the wild river before leading the students into the water, failed to designate lifeguards, did not operate under a “buddy system” where students would watch each other, did not properly supervise the students and failed to ensure the chaperones were properly supervising the students, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says none of the chaperones or Monkey Bay guides were aware of Tomari’s disappearance for more than an hour after the trip to the river.
“Although (Tomari) was the only African-American male on the trip, nobody noticed he was missing,” the lawsuit reports.
The Belize Coast Guard conducted an underwater search and found Tomari 25 feet under the river’s surface partially caught under some wooden debris, according to the lawsuit. Belizean officials determined he died from drowning.
The case has been assigned to State Court Judge Toby Prodgers, and Atlanta attorney Tricia CK Hoffler is representing Forbes.
The lawsuit names seven individuals: Miller and the six chaperones — James Auld, Jennifer Johnson, Wesley McCoy, Deborah McCoy, Grant McDurmon and Nishmin Porbandarwala.
Four of the chaperones are employees of the Cobb School District and Cobb County Government, and the remaining two are retired teachers, according to the lawsuit.
The school district and county government are also being sued because employers may be held liable for their employees’ negligence, according to the lawsuit.
Donna Lowry, spokesperson for the Cobb School District, and Sheri Kell, spokesperson for Cobb County government, declined to comment on the pending litigation.
One defendant, Johnson, a science teacher at North Cobb, deferred to Lowry’s statement. The other defendants could not be reached for comment by press time.
Tomari’s mother, Forbes, is seeking punitive damages for her son’s mental and physical pain and suffering, funeral and burial costs and the loss of future familial support and companionship.
North Cobb had sponsored a trip to Belize for four years. This year, students traveled to Costa Rica, according to Lowry.