The Office of the Loudoun County Attorney is expected to meet with the legal team representing the family of a Loudoun teen who drowned last year after receiving a letter detailing the family’s charges that the county bears responsibility for the June death.
Loudoun County Attorney Leo Rogers said on Monday he has contacted the family’s attorneys and told them he is available to meet to discuss the matter.
Fitz Alexander Campbell-Thomas drowned in the area of Confluence Park in the River Creek Community amid a delayed response by first responders and was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
In the letter, dated May 19 and addressed to the county attorney, attorneys Kenneth Bynum and Madison Gibbs said they had an opportunity to investigate the case and outline their view on the duty owed to the deceased teen and the liability of Loudoun County for his death.
After numerous emergency communication breakdowns, local first responders’ arrival came more than 30 minutes after the initial call for help.
Campbell-Thomas was believed to have been in the water for approximately five minutes before friends noticed he was missing, according to a transcript of one of the multiple 9-1-1 calls documented in the Perdido Bay Terrace Significant Incident Review, issued several months after the tragedy.
Michelle Thomas, Fitz’s mother and president of the NAACP Loudoun Branch, and her family argue that communication failures led to the teenager being denied the opportunity to receive emergency support in a timely manner.
The group argued in the letter that Campbell-Thomas was a person requiring attention from emergency services, certain procedures were not followed and that emergency services owed him a special duty.
“The afore-mentioned supports an establishment of private duty on behalf of the county to exercise reasonable care to immediately find Fitz and provide medical support, both of which they did not,” the letter reads.
“We believe this negligence was a proximate cause of his death, and that liability lies squarely against Loudoun County.”
As part of a statewide effort to address the deficiencies with emergency 9-1-1 call routing in Virginia, Thomas joined a working group called the E911 Border Response Workgroup.
Recently, the group provided recommendations to the governor, which include improving wireless 9-1-1 location accuracy and forming a Next Generation 9-1-1 Leadership Commission.
The workgroup also recommended the creation of a cross-border 9-1-1 call processing best-practices guide to support the implementation of new policies in the commonwealth, as well as address telecommunicator compensation, reclassification, recruitment, training, and retention.
In Loudoun County, EMS officials made a policy change directing 9-1-1 operators to dispatch Loudoun units to any incident on waterways adjoining neighboring jurisdictions, regardless of jurisdictional responsibility.
Under the previous directive, Loudoun would redirect all calls for service for emergencies on the river made from the Virgina side to Montgomery since the Potomac River falls within their jurisdiction, according to Laura Rinehart, public information officer for Loudoun County Combined Fire and Rescue System.
The policy change has helped with a number of water rescues during heavy rainfalls, according to Laura Rinehart, public information officer for Loudoun County Combined Fire and Rescue System.
Thomas told the Times-Mirror earlier that the family has sent Montgomery County a settlement demand and notice of their intent to file a lawsuit, should the two parties not settle the matter.
As of Tuesday, Thomas said she has not received any response.
The office of the Montgomery County Attorney directed the Times-Mirror to the Public Information office, which did not respond to request for comment.
The family is seeking a settlement that includes changes to policy and for monetary damages, Thomas said, but would not disclose the amount, stating that it could never be enough for what the family and the world lost.
“The money is material,” she said. “The deposit is what really protects the people and shows our family that they are serious about public safety.”