Wrongful death lawsuit filed after teen drowns at Transylvania University

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Negligence and unsafe conditions are what the parents of a young teen say caused their son's death. Ricky Harris III, 13, of Frankfort drowned while at a summer camp at Transylvania University in June.

On Tuesday, we obtained the lawsuit from Fayette County Circuit Court and the video from the family's lawyer who says will prove their case.

No criminal charges were filed in this drowning death. But three months later, that hasn't stopped the boy's parents from moving forward in court. The lawsuit is 29 pages of reasons why they say someone is responsible for the teen's death.

"You have a dozen kids in a swimming pool with two lifeguards," said John DeCamillis, who is the Harris family's attorney out of Louisville. "The math tells you that nothing should happen."

Ricky Harris was one of the dozen kids attending a week-long academic summer camp at Transylvania University. On June 23, Harris was found on the bottom of the university's indoor pool at the Willy T. Young Campus Center during a supervised recreational break.

"You're talking about a 13-year-old that was not only a great little student but a great little athlete," said DeCamillis.

The family's attorney has reviewed the surveillance video many times which shows Harris enter the pool at the shallow end. Once he makes his way to the deep end, you see Harris become distressed and then drown. It's something the young teen's parents cannot bear to watch as their son lies on the bottom of the pool for more than 10 minutes unnoticed by lifeguards.

This attorney says the surveillance video proves one lifeguard was distracted. And that's why the Harris family has filed a civil suit against the university, camp counselor, and the two lifeguards on duty. They say the parties involved were negligent and reckless and now liable for their boy losing his life.

"She's on her computer, and she's on her phone doing whatever she's doing admittedly so," said DeCamillis, who is talking about one of the lifeguards in the video.

The lawsuit papers point at several reasons why this is a wrongful death, like the act of leaving Harris unattended, unprotected, and unsupervised; an unsafe atmosphere with no buoys separating the shallow and deep ends of the pool; and lifeguards not properly responding to his distress, failing to rescue Harris.

"Don't just brush this aside," said DeCamillis. "It's a terrible accident to not learn from it and do something about it."

It's a case they're ready to fight in court, saying someone needs to he held accountable for this seventh grader's death.

The family and their attorney believe if Kentucky had a negligent homicide statute, then situations like this would be looked at differently.

Right now attorneys are having experts review the lifeguards' certification and training as well as the pool's setup.

Transylvania University released a statement on Tuesday afternoon, saying, "As a community, our thoughts and prayers remain with the family and we continue to mourn their loss with them. Even as this tragedy has moved into the courtroom, we will continue to support them as best we can, but, as is our policy, we cannot comment further on pending legal matters."

As of Wednesday, no responses had been filed in the wrongful death lawsuit. The defendants have 20 days to respond from the time they receive the lawsuit.

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