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Parents of Lodi drowning victim file suit against school district

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Posted: Friday, August 9, 2002 10:00 pm

The parents of Chhayarong Kong have filed a civil lawsuit against Lodi Unified School District, claiming negligent supervision led to the drowning of their 16-year-old son.

The suit, filed Thursday in San Joaquin County Superior Court, alleges the district and Kong's physical education teacher failed to properly supervise students in Tokay High School's pool to prevent the May 17 fatal accident.

The district was responsible for supervising students in the pool, but was negligent in those duties, said Roger Moore, a Stockton lawyer who is helping to represent the parents.

Kathy Martin, Lodi Unified's risk manager, said district officials have not seen a copy of the lawsuit and declined to comment on the pending litigation.

The civil suit comes just days after Lodi Unified trustees unanimously approved a $31,000 aquatic safety plan which calls for hiring lifeguards to watch over district pools.

Kong was discovered at the bottom of Tokay's pool during his sixth-period fitness class by a student who initially thought the victim was a towel.

The teen's brief struggles in the water went unnoticed by his classmates and the teacher, who was preoccupied with administrative duties on the pool's deck, according to Lodi police reports.

Kong died a day after the accident at an Oakland hospital.

The lawsuit claims the district hired incompetent or unfit employees to supervise the pools, which left the students exposed to "an undue risk of drowning." Kong was at a greater risk because he wasn't an experienced swimmer, the lawsuit claims.

It also claims the district was negligent in properly training staff members who supervise the pools in water safety, first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

The parents are seeking more than $25,000 in damages, though no specific amount has been set, Moore said.

Drowning deaths in California public school pools have fetched an average of $3 million, which is not an unrealistic figure, Moore added.

Lodi Unified brought in a safety consultant to review pool practices and make recommendations following the fatal accident.

The district is looking to hire lifeguards through Lodi's Parks and Recreation Department, which currently operates several city water programs. Concerns over liability are complicating the process.

District officials hope to have lifeguards in place in the next month, whether hired through the city or by the district.

Martin said the district just finished training physical education teachers on the aquatic safety plan and certifications required for water safety.

"We would like to get the programs running as soon as we can," she said.

Both Lodi and Tokay high school pools have remained closed to swim classes since the fatal accident.

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