Letters to the Editor

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BETHEL: District spinning student’s death

Letter by Ben F. Barcus, Tacoma on Dec. 2, 2011 at 1:49 pm with 17 Comments »
December 2, 2011 1:53 pm

Re: “Girl’s death not caused by Bethel staff, jury finds” (TNT, 12-2).

While it has been suggested that the events leading to the death of Mercedes Mears occurred within six minutes, documented facts do not bear that scenario out.

The event began at 8:15 a.m., consistent with school district statements, sworn pre-trial depositions and court testimony. The first 911 call was 7½ minutes later, at 8:22:33 a.m., as documented on a computer call data sheet. A second call was at 8:27 a.m., and paramedics documented their emergency efforts at 8:30 a.m., finding Mercedes lying “unresponsive” on the nurse’s office floor.

Efforts to revive Mercedes included multiple administrations of epinephrine by paramedics. Bethel staff did not follow their own directives requiring “immediate” administration of EpiPen. Also, no CPR was initiated by school staff, even when Mercedes became unconscious.

Responsibility and accountability, rather than attempting to “spin doctor” the facts, and sweep this preventable death under the rug, without any proper investigation, cannot be condoned. Only through acceptance of responsibility for confirmed errors constituting serious, life-threatening negligence, and implementation of appropriate corrective measures, can further unnecessary deaths of children be prevented.

Until that occurs, children’s lives will remain at risk.

(Barcus is the attorney for the Mears family.)

Leave a comment Comments → 17
  1. sandblower says:

    I’m certain it will be in court before long. That is the proper place to resolve the issue.

  2. itwasntmethistime says:

    It already went to court and the jury found the School District not guilty. The fact is, there isn’t always someone to blame when tragedy occurs.

  3. Murigen says:

    The original story mentioned that the child wasn’t feeling well before she was dropped off at the school. If I remember right by a friend. So should that friend be held responsible? This was a tragic death and the parents are looking for someone to blame. But the school district should not be held responsible.

  4. justthefactsplease says:

    Respectfully, the standard for a civil case,rather than a criminal case is whether a party is found to be negligent. The jury in this case did indeed find that the school district was negligent, but did not find that the negligence was the “proximate cause”of the death. If this sounds inconsistent, that is exactly why further court proceedings are necessary.
    Also, Mercedes was not Ill at all when she was dropped off at school. Your “friend” is simply mistaken in that regard. Mercedes’ mother had a strict policy that Mercedes would stay home from school if she was at all Ill. Mercedes became ill at school, and tragically, school district personnel failed to follow their own policies and procedures, and allowed her to die. A long list of negligent acts, or failures to act by the School district, resulted in Mercedes’ death that was totally preventable. Until the school district is held legally responsible, unfortunately, further children’s lives will remain at risk.

  5. hansgruber says:

    Ben, you had your day in court and you lost. You should advocate you issue with the politicians.

    The taxpayers are tired of being sued and seeing their tax dollars not being used for what they are budgeted for.

    “did not find that the negligence was the “proximate cause”of the death”-pretty straight forward.

    This death was very sad indeed but the school is not to blame for it and that is what the jury decided. Live with it and continue on with your live, otherwise you will be consumed by it.

  6. justthefactsplease says:

    We will continue to advocate for full responsibility and accountability to be assessed for confirmed negligent parties, who quite miserably failed to preserve a child’s life. The “head in the sand” or “ostrich” attitude of the District and its personnel will do nothing to change the obvious inept failure to follow policies and procedures. Children’s lives must always remain paramount, and incompetent or extremely difficient staff cannot be allowed to remain in positions that directly influence child safety. Until there is an acceptance of responsiblity for the lives of children in the District’s care, more children will die. This is simply not acceptable, and must be corrected. This death was 100% preventable, if only the school personnel had been properly trained to respond in the event of this readily anticipated situation, and acted in accordance with school policy and procedure. There was not a proper investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death. Why not? Because the District knows it did not serve Mercedes properly, and it’s failings caused her death. We will continue in our quest to see that proper responsibility and accountability is assessed, with the goal of preventing the deaths of more innocent children. We have no choice in that regard, because the District seems to have no interest — how many more child’s lives must be lost before the District takes notice?

  7. ConnieX says:

    This is just one more pathetic example of how we treat our most vulnerable people (i.e. children)in the U.S. and one more example of the lack of accountability of officials. Why weren’t school staff properly trained to respond to this type of situation? Why wasn’t money spent on basic training for the “hands-on” staff? If you look at the district’s budget for training of staff members, will it show that proportionally more money goes for school board members’ and administrators’ travel to workshops, etc., or for more essential training of the employees who directly oversee the safety of students? Money talks and where money is or isn’t spent is what I am concerned about as a taxpayer. I’ve looked at where money goes in my school district and I’m not pleased! I want more money spent per employee on training front-line workers in safety and less per board member and administrator for travel and classes that seem to just be a way for administrators to upgrade their pay scale. As a taxpayer, if someone has been wronged by official negligence, I feel that it is only right that we pay for that wrong, learn from the mistake, and demand accountability from those who made the mistakes. Instead, much of the media seems to skew our views to blaming the victim. Saying that the parents shouldn’t sue is no different than right wing talk radio’s Laura Ingrahm’s reaction to sexual harassment claims. She dismisses it saying, “We have seen this movie before and we know how it ends. It always ends up being an employee who can’t perform or who under performs and is looking for a little green.” This attitude is so wrong to just dismiss problems and claim that it’s just people after money. I know that at my child’s FORMER school, even though money wasn’t even involved, the official that I had to deal with just dismissed the harassment, without any concern or offer of assistance, saying that, “We have rules against harassment, so there’s just no way that it could happen.” That’s my point of view based on my experience.

  8. Murigen says:

    You obviously think all school employees should be trained to handle all scenarios be they accidents, medical, criminal. Really? Explain to me how a $15 million judgement would help. Unless Mercedes’ parents would be willing to say that any judgement would go toward training district employees it wouldn’t. Tragic accidents happen. People get hurt or die. You can’t always lay blame and get monetary compensation.

  9. ConnieX says:

    Murigen, I find it offensive when people misstate what I think. Why would you take what I wrote and interpret it in such a twisted way? Your assumptions are way off! No, I don’t think that all school employees should be trained to handle all scenarios. I did not say that $15 million dollars would be the proper judgement. I also believe that sometimes there are tragic accidents where one can’t always lay blame and receive compensation.

    In this case, the jurors concurred that there was negligence. There was no monetary award, as based on what was presented to them, the jurors didn’t find that the negligence directly caused the child’s death. With a different jury pool, a different judge, different attorneys, a smaller defense budget for the school district, a larger defense budget for the parents, there might have been a different verdict. In our legal system, these type of differences can affect the ruling. So, I don’t take a jury’s ruling as the absolute truth of the matter (i.e. O.J. Simpson). It’s a gray area, a lot of times. However, if I was sending my child to this school district, I would be very concerned about the district’s budgetary priorities and how they hired, retained, and trained their employees. Many times tragic events do happen because of negligence and corrections should be made.

  10. itwasntmethistime says:

    If every school district spent all the time and money necessary to train every staff person to handle every forseeable emergency situation there would be no time or money left to educate the students. It simply isn’t reasonable to expect your local school to be all things for all people.

  11. philichi says:

    Mr. Barcus you have now hit a nerve. We, the public have grown to except mediocrity in our Union lead public schools. Yet, as tax payers, we are charged around $11,000 per child per year, for a child’s public education. We find it acceptable when 50% of high school students fail to graduate. We seem to tolerate it when our children test lower in math, science, and reading than just about every other nation. We have been taught to just vote yes on all levies and ignore the results.

    Well, now, all of this mediocrity has killed a little girl. The blob that we call the school district has been proven negligent. They were negligent in who they hired, and who they didn’t fire. They were negligent in their lack of training and preparedness, and on and on.

    Apparently no one wants to state the obvious. Under the current system, excellence, isn’t even expected. The only thing expected, is that school districts are run for the efficient collection of union dues, not teaching and care of children. If a hospital had the failing results of public schools in general, they would have been shut down. If a restaurant was this inept, no one would ever dine there.

    Ben, your clients deserve to be paid for the substandard care that their daughter received. However, when we look at the future generations that this system is turning out, our whole nation deserves to be paid damages. Please begin the class action suit today!

  12. In this case the jury was right to not award monetary damages. I feel they were wrong to even say there was negligence.

    I had children in this district. It’s not the greatest district but I didn’t see where the staff was any worse than other school’s when dealing with accidents or illness. The parents were more of a problem, sending kids to school who were sick.

    If I have misunderstood what you meant I apologize. But don’t go throwing out there that you are offended by a misunderstanding. Frustrated, sure. Offended, no.

  13. ColtonsDad says:

    Ben you are right. School districts put our kids at risk daily especially those with special needs and health issues. For several days I sat in the court room and listened to this trial and it turned my stomach listening to Bethel staff members perjure themselves on the stand to protect the District. I witnessed the same behavior in our hearing against the Puyallup School District; district employees will sell their soul at any cost to protect their employer and their own neck. School is supposed to be the next safest place to home for our children.

    Times sure have changed, school is a business now and the superintendents and administration salaries are evidence to that. Bullying, harassment and discrimination seem to be the headlines now in America and it is getting worse. Districts will pay millions of dollars in legal fees in an attempt to keep the record clean.

    I sat in that hearing listening to Bethel’s attorneys cast blame on the Mears for their daughter’s death just as Puyallup’s attorneys placed blame on my wife and I for the harassment, abuse and bullying our son endured at school. We live in a sick and twisted society where these courts continue to protect these districts from being held accountable for their actions.

  14. ColtonsDad says:

    Itwasntmethistime, Having a fulltime registered nurse at each school would not be that expensive compared to the benefits. Take a good look at the salaries of school administrators and the superintendents that have no daily impact on a student. That is where society needs to focus. Teachers themselves are severely underpaid as is support staff that influences every student. At the time of Mercedes death, there was no nurse at the school, just some nurse’s aide that was not trained to do anything. They usually assign one nurse to cover several different schools to save a buck. I listened to the testimony of the nurse that was assigned to that school and she testified that she had all the updated health/emergency information and a new epi-pen provided by the Mears. She testified that she did not have Mercedes emergency plan written up so that in case of an emergency anyone could follow the directions. She said that it would have only taken her minutes to write the plan, but did not. So that aide just watched this young girl suffocate and die without any intervention whatsoever.

  15. ConnieX says:

    ColtonsDad, it sounds like you had a similar experience as I had in dealing with a school official over harassment issues. In fact some TNT commenters have the same tone as the irresponsible administrator that I dealt with. Mainly, I encountered the following excuses: (1)placement of all the blame on the victim and parents, (2)claiming that negligence isn’t negligence because it’s the way things happen everywhere and it’s no worse than at other schools, and (3)saying that the offensive/negligent behavior was just a misunderstanding, that the other students/staff just didn’t know any better. The attitude is one of not working to solve problems but rather acting to hide problems. This experience makes me very skeptical of the Bethel School District’s actions.

  16. Resipsa says:

    Ben. You made every one of these arguments to the jury and they rejected them. Why argue them again in the press. The jury has spoken. Respect their decision. Either you dropped the ball with this jury or they got it right. Which is it?

  17. nurseradched says:

    Oh, please. Large defense budget for the defense and small budget for the parents? Then why did Mr. Barcus make 4 motions for mistrails and say he wanted the defense to pay for all plantiff’s costs “which are considerable”? I spent 8 weeks of my life listening to lies and spin about myself and the people I worked for. I was vilified by the parnets lawyers, and lied about mercilessly. But fortunetly the jury saw through the lies and spin and didn’t award them anything. I feel for the family, but we didn’t contribute to Mercedes’ death. In the minds of the jurors, or in our own minds. Ben – still haven’t collected a penny of unemployment :)

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