According to allegations raised in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against a South Dakota city, over the drowning of a five year old girl at Sioux Falls Park, the city knew about prior deaths and failed to add proper safety barriers that could have prevented the tragedy.
The complaint (PDF) was filed against Sioux Falls in the U.S. District Court District of South Dakota on July 26, over the tragic drowning of Maggie Zaiger, who died after slipping on foam covered rocks that obstruct the view of the water’s edge.
The five year old Zaiger was visiting Falls Park with her family in March, and was walking around the river bank where visitors are allowed and expected to be during walks. The exact location of Zaiger’s drowning was where two similar drownings had previously occurred and were known by the City of Sioux, according to allegations raised in the lawsuit filed by the family.
Plaintiffs claim the City of Sioux Falls knew of the apparent dangers during Spring run-offs that cause mountainous amounts of foam that looks like snow to form around and cover the rocky river’s edge, creating a slip and fall hazard into the fast flowing rocky water.
Despite the known dangers, as well as two previously recorded drownings and several other near-drownings that occurred in the same area in previous years, plaintiffs claim Sioux Falls consciously chose not to install fencing around known dangers.
Plaintiffs further claimed that long before Maggie’s drowning on March 18, the city received a written report recommending the “Best Practice” would be to fence off areas where spring runoff obstructs the river’s edge to warn visitors of dangers that may not be apparent to them, and to increase patrols during the spring time.
Depicted in the complaint are Maggie’s last moments, as her mother, Courtney Jayne, explained that she turned away to tend to her other child momentarily and when she did, Maggie reached out toward the foam and disappeared into the foam covered river.
The Argus Leader reported that at least 10 deaths and dozens of near-fatal drownings have been reported at Falls Park since 1980. Sioux Falls Fire Rescue reported to The Argus Leader they had received seven emergency rescue calls within the last five years from children and adults falling into the river and becoming trapped.
Two of the most recent fatalities involved two teenagers, Madison Wallace and Lyle Eagle. Madison was attempting to save her younger brother Garrett, who similarly to Zaiger’s incident, had fallen into the frothing water’s edge. As Madison struggled to save him, Lyle Eagle entered the water to assist Madison, however as both Madison and Lyle were able to save six year old Garrett, both of them were swept away by the strong Big Sioux River current and drowned.
Zaiger’s mother made a statement to The Argus Leader that the lawsuit is not about any amount of money to be obtained from her daughter’s death, rather it’s to hold the city of Sioux Falls accountable and compel better safety precautions at Falls Park.