Family settles lawsuit in near-drowning case


Jaekwon Williams sits in a wheel chair surrounded by his family and attorneys during a Tuesday press conference in Kinston.


By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

KINSTON — A $10 million settlement by the city of Kinston for a Rocky Mount youth who suffered severe brain damage in a near-drowning at a water park is fair and equitable and will provide for the youth for the rest of his life, his family’s attorneys said Tuesday.

Jaekwon Williams was lowered from a handicap accessible van Tuesday morning before a family member wheeled him to the front of the Lenoir County Courthouse steps for a news conference organized by his attorneys Tom Taft and Ken Haigler of Greenville. The brain damage he suffered at Lions Adventure Water Park left him unable to walk, talk or care for himself, the lawyers said.

“No amount of money in the world can replace what’s happened to Jae and the condition he finds himself in,” Haigler said. “Jaekwon Williams entered a normal boy, but he didn’t leave that way. It is with significantly mixed emotions we are here this morning. We’re sad on one hand, happy on the other.”

Williams was 9 and could not swim on Aug. 11, 2014, when he went on a field trip to the park under the supervision of Quest Summer Day Camp, a program organized by the Rocky Mount Parks and Recreation Department. The City of Kinston and Woodmen Foundation jointly operated the water park.

The boy was spotted at the bottom of the facility’s seven-foot deep competition lap pool. Emergency crews resuscitated and transported him to Vidant Medical Center, where he spent more than a week in a coma.

The lawsuit against the city of Kinston alleged the water park did not have proper measures in place to ensure the safety of children and that park staff was negligent and failed to in keep Jaekwan safe. Case documents filled a file box at the Lenoir County Courthouse on Tuesday. 

The final litigants in the case agreed to a settlement approved by Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith earlier this month. 

“Due to the negligence, carelessness, recklessness and/or wanton conduct with reckless indifference of all defendants, Jaekwon Williams was found at the bottom of the lap pool of Lions Water Adventure Park with no pulse or respirations, and suffered severe and permanent physical and mental injuries as a result of said non-fatal drowning,” the agreement said. “The defendants were informed and/or should have known that Jaekwon Williams was not able to swim and should have used ordinary care in assuring his safety.”

Williams family, through Taft, Taft and Haigler, sued Kinston, Rocky Mount and the Woodmen foundation and other defendants connected to the cities, including Rocky Mount Parks and Recreation Department, the summer camp and its counselors. Family member did not comment on Tuesday.

Rocky Mount settled its part of the lawsuit three years ago. The city's insurance company paid out $2.6 million, with the city paying a $50,000 deductible in July 2015, said Tameka Kenan-Norman, the city's chief communications and marketing officer.

Taft and Haigler on Tuesday would not comment on settlement amounts. Court records indicate Kinston paid $10 million. The Woodmen Foundation paid an undisclosed amount. Kerry Heinrich, director of communications for the Woodmen Foundation wrote in an email that the terms of its agreement with the family are confidential.

“Due to the confidentiality of the issue, we really can't comment further,” Heinrich said.

Haigler said the settlement was fair and equitable and the money will help the Williams family with medical bills, legal fees, around-the-clock care for Jaekwon and ensures he is taken care of for the rest of his life. Haigler added that a portion of the settlement will be placed in a trust fund for Jaekwon to be managed by his parents, Darrius and Jasmine Williams.

Kinston City Manager Tony Sears did not return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment on the matter.

Haigler said Jaekwon, now a teenager, is a loving member of his family despite his condition.

“Everyone that comes in contact with this young man is blessed by him,” Haigler said. “The injuries Jae suffered have left him unable to walk, unable to talk, unable to care for the activities of daily living that all of us take for granted.”

Telegram staff writer Lindell John Kay contributed to this report.