British Columbia

Parents of 12-year-old drowning victim sue B.C. over safety concerns at man-made lake

The parents of a 12-year-old girl who died after being sucked into a drain pipe at the bottom of a man-made lake in northeastern B.C. are charging ahead with a lawsuit against the park, city and province, claiming the "hazardous" pool was kept open for too long.

Beverly Park's parents suing city, province over man-made lake after daughter's 2016 death

Beverly Park, left, and her twin brother, Lawrence Park, pictured at Christmas. Beverly Park died on Aug. 16, 2016. She was 12 years old. (Brandie Park)

The parents of a 12-year-old girl who died after being sucked into a drainpipe at the bottom of a man-made lake in northeastern B.C. are pushing ahead with a lawsuit against the park, city and province, claiming the "hazardous" pool was kept open for too long.

Brandie and Todd Park claim the people who ran Rotary Lake in Dawson Creek, B.C., failed to make sure the area was safe, despite knowing a drainpipe large and strong enough to drag a child below the surface lay on the lake floor.

"I have no answers on why it happened," said Brandie Park, Beverly's mother, speaking over the phone from Dawson Creek on Monday. "Three years, I'm still waiting to hear some answers."

Beverly Park was playing with her twin brother and some friends in the lake at Mile 0 Park on Aug. 13, 2016 when they slid the lid off the drainpipe at the bottom of the lake, according to a coroner's report. Removing the cap created a vacuum, and Beverly's legs were sucked down into the drain. She was stuck with her head below the water.

Rotary Lake is pictured in a file photo, taken when the lake was still open. It has been closed since Beverly Park's death. (Mile 0 Park/Facebook)

A notice of civil claim said Beverly's twin brother, Lawrence, tried to help his sister but couldn't get her free. He yelled for his mom, who'd been watching from a picnic table nearby.

The claim said Brandie Park jumped in the water and started to pull on her daughter, but Beverly "was not budging from the drainpipe."

The lawsuit said Brandie shouted at a man standing near the water's edge, asking him to shut down the pipe. It claims he was talking on the phone and waved her off, ignoring her for several minutes while Brandie screamed.

Brandie said Beverly "popped" out of the pipe once someone shut off the suction, but Beverly was unresponsive. She died in hospital on Aug. 16, 2016. 

None of the allegations has been proven in court and the defendants have not filed responses to the civil claim.

2 child deaths

The Parks believe something should have changed around the way Rotary Lake was regulated long before their daughter died, especially considering another child died there 22 years earlier.

Rotary Lake, built in the 1960s, provided a free gathering place for families in the northeastern B.C. city. 

Artificial swimming facilities like pools and hot tubs usually need a licence to operate in B.C., but Rotary Lake was granted an exemption from provincial pool safety requirements in 1989. At the time, the province said the lake didn't constitute a health hazard to the community.

The designation meant the lake could operate without lifeguards or regular inspections from the regional health authority — much like a natural lake would.

Rotary Lake has been shut down since Beverly Park died on Aug. 16, 2016. Park was the second child to die at the lake. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

That exemption was upheld, even after a four-year-old drowned at the lake in July 1994. City documents said the regional health authority, Northern Health, attributed the child's death to "murky water and overcrowding."

The authority did order the lake closed, 22 years later, after Beverly died. The health authority also recommended the exemption be removed.

"For people to be able to neglect a pool in their community that they know is a problem, been a problem for years ... It's bizarre to me," Brandie said. "Why was this left by everybody?"

Built in the early 1960s, Rotary Lake once provided a free place for families in the northeastern B.C. city to gather. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

The Parks are suing for negligence, claiming inaction led to their daughter's death. CBC News has reached out to the defendants for comment.

In an email, a representative for the City of Dawson Creek said staff are unable to comment on ongoing litigation.

'Nothing is fun anymore'

The Park family has a memorial to their daughter, a custom welded cross painted by hand, fixed to the chain-link fence outside the park. Brandie Park goes there for Beverly's birthday, her own birthday and Christmas.

"It's all I have to be with her," said Brandie.

"She just was the smartest, most gentle person to be around. As a mom, she made it all worth being a mom. There was never a day she didn't make me smile, laugh, or that I didn't tell her I loved her," Brandie continued.

"She ended up donating her heart, kidney and liver. That's something she would have wanted to do. That's who she was." 

Lawrence Park, left, has autism. The twins' mother said Beverly Park, right, was protective of her brother and his best friend. (Brandie Park)

Beverly and her twin, Lawrence, were conceived through in vitro fertilization after the Parks struggled to conceive. Brandie said Lawrence has struggled to grasp the loss of his best friend. 

"[We] took him to the Calgary Stampede ... and right in the middle of the fair ... he stopped and looked at me and he said, 'You know, Mom, nothing is fun anymore. And that's just it," Brandie said.

"It still is a nightmare. It's something that doesn't go away."

With files from Andrew Kurjata

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