MACCLENNY, Fla. – The parents of a 2-year-old boy who drowned in a Baker County retention pond in April believe his death was preventable and are suing the owner of the property, claiming he didn't install fencing that might have protected their son.
Franklin Parker was found in the pond April 23 after he wandered away from the apartment where he was being watched by his 18-year-old sister while their parents were at work. A neighbor tried to revive the little boy with CPR, but he died at Ed Fraser Memorial Hospital in Macclenny.
A release from the attorneys now representing Franklin's parents said the boy died days before his 3rd birthday.
According to the Law Offices of Anidjar & Levine, the retention pond off West Minnesota Avenue is on the property of Macclenny Cycle & Marine, owned by Stephen Clarence Williams Jr. According to court documents, the property owner did not have proper fencing as required by building permits, the attorneys claim.
"This tragedy was preventable," said defense attorney Glen Levine. "Our clients are devastated, and we are working hard to ensure that those at fault take responsibility."
Williams applied Jan. 13, 2016, to the St. Johns River Water Management District for a permit for construction of the retention pond to be used for stormwater treatment, court documents show.
The plans for the retention pond were part of a nearly four-acre storage facility.
Plans submitted to the district detailed the construction of a 6-foot fence with a self-latching gate. A permit for construction was issued two weeks later on Jan. 27, 2016.
Williams subsequently built the retention pond, which was completed in March 2017. However, the property owner did not install the fence as detailed in the construction plans, the attorneys said.
Amy Tisdale, who lives near the retention pond, said many children live in the neighborhood.
“Whenever you dug that ditch and put water in and I’m over here like you should have put a fence up or some type of security to keep kids from over there,” Tisdale said. “Very too late and it’s a tragedy and I feel sorry for his mom and his family.”
The owner told News4Jax shortly after the boy's death that a fence is planned around the pond but it hasn't been built yet. The owner declined to comment Wednesday about the lawsuit.
In the wrongful death lawsuit, Franklin's family alleges the corporation constructed the pond with an unreasonably dangerous slope and failed to provide signage warning of the pond's depth. They also allege the property owner knew or should have known the risk that the unfenced pond posed to the public's health and safety and that failure to comply with the building permit resulted in the toddler's death.
In 2000, a Florida family won a settlement against property owners for the wrongful death of their toddler who drowned in a retention pool that also lacked adequate fencing, the attorneys said.