Jacksonville spends $837K on septic tank lids after Amari's death

Boy, 3, died after falling into an unsecured septic tank last fall

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry vowed last fall to make secure lids the standard for septic tanks at parks throughout the city after 3-year-old Amari Harley died inside a tank with an unsecured lid at Bruce Park.

Five months later, the city said it has taken steps to make good on that promise. It said 193 city septic tanks are now secured by heavy metal lids with locking devices as part of an $837,525 effort to replace lids at parks and boat ramps citywide.

Amari died in what authorities call an accidental drowning after falling into a septic tank at the park Oct. 22. An I-TEAM investigation later found the same tank had been the subject of two previous complaints filed with the city. In addition, an inspector found it was unsecured a month before the boy died.

On Monday, the I-TEAM learned that the lid to the tank was not properly secured the day Amari fell in. The lid also lacked a childproof screw intended to keep the lid in place, according to a 340-plus-page investigative report released by the Sheriff's Office.

The child's death is the focus of a wrongful death lawsuit against the city contractors who were in charge of maintaining sewage tanks at city parks. The complaint contends both firms were negligent in their duties and that Amari's death was preventable.

DOCUMENT: Complaint filed against Jacksonville contractors | Statement from family's attorney

The I-TEAM, which found several hazards while reviewing safety conditions at 76 parks in October, went back out Wednesday to check on progress at parks across the city. Based on their findings, it appears more work needs to be done.

At Carvill Park in Northwest Jacksonville, for instance, the septic tanks had the same concrete lids that were in place during the initial I-TEAM visit last fall. The story was the same at the Cedar Hills Athletic Association Park on the Westside where a concrete lid appeared to be untouched.

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There were signs of progress at Criswell Park, also situated on the Westside, where it looked as though some unfinished work had begun. The dirt surrounding the septic tank was disturbed, but the lids had not yet been replaced.

The lone bright spot during Wednesday's search was at Forestview Park in Northwest Jacksonville, which previously had the same type of tank covers that were in use at Bruce Park. It now has a secure heavy metal lid covering the tank.

A city spokesperson said there's a reason upgrades are visible at some parks, but not others. She said public works crews have been prioritizing work based on the kind of lids currently in place. The goal is to replace fiberglass lids first, then concrete ones.

Still unclear is the fate of a city employee whose job it was to oversee septic tank inspections. The I-TEAM previously learned that the employee has been disciplined, though it's not yet clear how.

The city also said it has overhauled its inspection process, bringing those duties in-house. But beyond removing contractors from the mix, the city has not explained how inspections have changed.

About the Author:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.