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Originally published Monday, June 10, 2013 at 6:09 PM

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Family seeks answers in son’s drowning at high school

Fedrick Nifasha, a developmentally disabled 20-year-old, didn’t know how to swim and was under doctor’s orders not to do so. His parents have hired an attorney to find out how their son ended up drowning in the Lake Stevens High School pool.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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@poky, 1.. you have no idea everything that crossed your parents grieving mind-- even... MORE
The anti-lawsuit whiners below would change their tune in a hurry if it was their son. MORE
What the hell are these special ed students doing around this pool in the first place... MORE

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Twenty-year-old Fedrick Nifasha was under doctor’s orders not to swim, ride bicycles or climb trees, according to a Seattle attorney who has been hired by Nifasha’s parents to find out how their developmentally disabled son ended up drowning in the pool at Lake Stevens High School.

Nifasha, who was pulled from the pool on May 31, was taken to Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett. He remained in a coma until he was taken off life support and died Sunday afternoon, said attorney Sim Osborn, of the Seattle firm Osborn Machler.

The Lake Stevens Police Department is investigating the incident, said Julie Ebert, the department’s administrative supervisor. Because the case is open, Ebert said details of the investigation cannot yet be disclosed.

Nifasha was one of 15 students enrolled in the Lake Stevens School District’s Transition Program, said spokeswoman Jayme Taylor. The special-education program is for students 18 to 21 who require continued educational support beyond the age of most high-school students, she said.

Program participants work in the community Mondays to Thursdays — as, for example, courtesy clerks at grocery stores or performing janitorial work, depending on their capabilities, Taylor said. On Fridays they go on excursions, including trips to the high-school pool.

“It was not the first excursion to the pool,” Taylor said.

Taylor declined to answer specific questions about Nifasha, including what the district knew of his swimming abilities, citing federal privacy laws.

“The facts as we understand them is that this accident happened at the beginning” of the program’s 11 a.m. class, she said.

In a statement posted on the district’s website Monday, Taylor wrote: “Students had been getting into the pool at the beginning of a swim session when a teacher noticed Nifasha was missing. The aquatics manager, who is a certified lifeguard, pulled Nifasha from the water and began lifesaving efforts until first responders arrived and took over.”

According to Osborn, the attorney, Nifasha’s family has received conflicting information about the drowning, including how long the 20-year-old was on the bottom of the pool before he was discovered and whether the incident occurred at the start or end of class.

Nifasha could not swim, and his parents had no idea he was going to the high-school pool that day, Osborn said.

Nifasha, who also suffered from epilepsy, spoke Burundi and a bit of Swahili but did not speak English, though he apparently understood the language, Osborn said.

Nifasha’s father lived for 37 years in a refugee camp in Tanzania after escaping violence in his native Burundi, according to Osborn. He met his wife in the camp and the couple had six or seven children, Osborn said.

The family immigrated to the U.S. about four years ago, according to Osborn, who declined to identify Nifasha’s parents.

Nifasha previously attended Jackson High School in Mill Creek before the family’s recent move to Lake Stevens, said Osborn.

“There’s apparently something in his file — he is not supposed to swim, ride bicycles or climb trees because of his condition,” Osborn said. “I don’t know whether the file had been transferred, received and reviewed” by officials in the Lake Stevens School District.

Asked if the family planned to file a lawsuit, Osborn responded: “It’s all very new and just so terribly tragic, and the family needs help sorting it out. Right now, the family has just hired me to get answers to their questions and find out what happened.”

Osborn also represented the family of Antonio Reyes, a freshman at Wenatchee High School. The family last year reached a $2 million settlement with the Wenatchee School District after Reyes drowned in a high-school pool in November 2011, according to a report in The Wenatchee World.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

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