Lowell Drowning Lawsuit Dismissed
LOWELL -- A lawsuit that claimed negligent maintenance of school property, among other factors, led to the death of a teen who drowned in the Lowell High School pool in 2012 was dismissed by a judge last week.
The family of Eddie Gayyean sued the city for wrongful death in 2015, almost three years after the 17-year-old was found dead in the school’s pool in August 2012.
His family sought $100,000 for pain and suffering in a suit that claimed the teen’s death was the result of insufficient measures to prevent unauthorized access to the pool. It also alleged the city failed to properly maintain locks or keep them engaged.
In a summary judgment, Middlesex Superior Court Judge Kathe Tuttman wrote that neither of these claims were upheld, because Gayyean was trespassing when he entered the pool area and “there is no evidence to support an inference that the city engaged in willful, wanton or reckless conduct.”
Tuttman ruled Gayyean, who did not know how to swim, should have known the danger posed by a pool.
According to court documents, Gayyean visited Lowell High School on August 6, 2012 to hand in paperwork to enroll in electives for the upcoming school year.
Surveillance footage from the high school shows Gayyean checking the door to a custodian closet, then entering the girl’s locker room, which has a door leading to the swimming pool. After entering the door, no further footage exists of Gayyean, according to court documents.
His body was found by an instructor about 5:30 p.m. at the bottom of a swimming pool. An autopsy ruled his death was an accidental drowning.
Attorneys representing Gayyean’s family argued “doors to the swimming pool were frequently left unlocked” and one lock was broken when Gayyean drowned. These statements were based on “inadmissible hearsay” and therefore not considered, according to the judgment.
The head of the Lowell High School custodians submitted an affidavit stating the doors to the pool area were kept locked at all times.
“It is true that Gayyean was able to gain access to the pool area, presumably through the girls’ locker room, and that, consequently, there is a reasonable though not inescapable, inference that the locker room door to the pool was left unlocked,” the judgment reads. “The inference, however, does not establish negligence as a matter of law.”
Rachel Brown, 1st Assistant City Solicitor, defended the city in the years-long case.
“We’re pleased with the results,” she said. “I think it’s the correct results under the law. ... It’s not a victory we celebrate.”
She said the appeal period for the case is still open.
A woman who answered the door at the Gayyean family’s home in Centralville referred all comment to their attorneys. Murray and Associates Law Group, which represented the family, did not respond to a request for comment.
Just four months before the drowning, Gayyean’s family moved to Lowell from Liberia, a relative told an investigator at the time.
Gayyean’s parents and siblings remember the teen as talkative and determined.
He was a volunteer for the Lowell Folk Festival and UTEC. He dreamed of being a soccer star in Europe and pursuing a career in economics.
Two days after the drowning, a state health inspector found 32 violations at the pool, including a failure to test the pool at least four times daily and a rusted door jamb. It was unclear if these violations contributed to the incident, but then-Headmaster Edward Rozmiarek said they were “routine” in nature, at the time.
An investigation by a state trooper found several doors in the school were propped open because of summer renovations or maintenance work. According to the report, exterior doors were often left open, even while classes were not in session.
This summer, the pool at Lowell High School permanently closed after city and school officials opted against spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to make necessary repairs.
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