Amari Harley's family sues Jacksonville contractors over boy's death

In scathing statement, attorney says city demonstrated 'gross negligence'

By Corley Peel - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The family of a 3-year-old Jacksonville boy who died after falling into a septic tank at a city park filed a wrongful death lawsuit Friday against two city contractors.

The complaint names A1 Septic Service, Inc., and ERS, Corp., and states both were negligent in their maintenance of the underground sewage tank at Bruce Park in Arlington.

It goes on to say ERS failed to have a registered septic tank contractor or state licensed plumber to service the water treatment systems at the park where Amari Harley died Oct. 22. 

READ: Complaint filed against city contractors | Statement from family's attorney

Attorney Kay Harper Williams, who represents Amari's family, blasted the city in a statement provided to News4Jax, saying it demonstrated "gross negligence."

The city "knew that the septic tank lid at Bruce Park was unsafe, because the unsecured lid had been reported to them. Amari died 18 months later because the septic tank lid at Bruce Park was still unsecured," Williams wrote.

An autopsy released this month ruled Amari's death an accident and found he died after choking on the septic tank's contents.

Amari was reported missing while playing at Bruce Park, where his family was attending a birthday party. His body was found later that night in an underground sewage tank.

Police said from the outset that no foul play was suspected in Amari's death. But whether safety measures were in place to prevent the boy from falling into the tank remains unclear.

City officials said the underground tank in which Amari's body was found is part of the lift station of the septic system for restrooms at the Arlington park.

If the tank access was not secure, it would have been at least the third time since April 2016, according to city records obtained by the I-TEAM.

Following Amari's death, city workers installed a concrete lid and later a metal one over the openings in the tank, which neighbors say were previously covered by plastic or fiberglass.

The boy's death stirred Mayor Lenny Curry, who ordered inspections of similar tanks at parks throughout the city. He also expressed a desire to make them the standard citywide.

The I-TEAM reviewed records for all park septic tanks and visited them in person. An Oct. 31 inspection report noted that the pumps needed to be replaced at Bruce Park.

Curry has previously declined to comment on any liability the city might face in the boy's death, saying the city wanted to allow time for police to complete the investigation.

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