A Frankfort couple have charged in a Fayette Circuit Court lawsuit that negligence by Transylvania University led to the drowning of their 13-year-old son in a university swimming pool in June.
The suit was filed Monday by Ricky L. and Jessica A. Harris, whose son, Ricky Harris III, died June 23 after losing consciousness during a recreational swim at Transy's William T. Young Campus Center. He was attending an academic summer camp at Transy.
The lawsuit alleges that because of a "culture of disregard as to swimming pool safety" at Transy, Ricky Harris sank under the water without being noticed, remaining underwater "for an extended period of time" before being found.
He entered the pool, "encountered a personal distress and began to struggle for help" that he never received, according to the suit.
Among other things, it alleges that Transylvania used improper resuscitation techniques; failed to provide qualified and capable lifeguards; failed to have an appropriate emergency action plan; failed to provide adequate rescue equipment; failed to follow prompt rescue procedures; and failed to provide enough elevated chairs for lifeguards that would have offered unobstructed views of the pool.
Depth markers and a safety line also were not provided or were not placed properly at the pool, and various state administrative regulations covering safety standards and practices were not followed, the lawsuit contends.
The Harris family argues in its lawsuit that the university's alleged failings and negligence were the "proximate cause" or a "substantial factor" in their son's death.
According to initial reports, Ricky Harris was found unconscious in the pool at 8:21 p.m. June 23. Transy reported that two lifeguards and an assistant swimming coach applied an automated defibrillator and performed CPR until an ambulance arrived.
Ricky was rushed to University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital, where he was pronounced dead about 8:55 p.m.
The Fayette Coroner's office later listed drowning as the cause of his death. Early reports suggested that Ricky might have suffered an injury while diving, but police later said surveillance video confirmed that no diving board was involved.
WKYT, the Herald-Leader's TV news partner, reported that a surveillance video provided by the Harris family's attorney shows Ricky entering the shallow end of the pool, then becoming distressed and drowning in the deep end. The station reported that the boy lay at the bottom of the pool for more than 10 minutes, unnoticed by two lifeguards.
Louisville attorney John Decamillis, who is representing the Harris family, was in court Wednesday and unavailable for comment, his office said.
The lawsuit says Ricky Harris struggled for a time before sinking, but he was not noticed by those present.
It charges that Transy breached its duty to observe swimmers for signs of distress and to be prepared to rescue swimmers in need, in effect leaving Ricky "unattended, unprotected and unsupervised."
Defendants listed in the lawsuit include the university, President Seamus Carey, former president R. Owen Williams, and Nicholas Conway and Morgan Cyrus, who are identified as lifeguards. Also named is a "Ms. Owens," identified as the counselor for the Transy academic camp.
Transylvania officials declined to comment on the lawsuit Wednesday but issued a statement.
"As a community, our thoughts and prayers remain with the family and we continue to mourn their loss with them," the statement says. "However, as is our longstanding policy, we cannot comment further on pending legal matters."
The Harris' lawsuit seeks a jury trial, punitive damages, and an admission by the defendants that there were acts of negligence in their son's death.