Family blames city for son’s drowning

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 27, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

The family of Delvin Lessell Jones, the 14-year-old who drowned in a city-owned retention pond this past January, is claiming the city’s negligence is to blame for the teen’s death and is seeking compensation for its loss.

Deborah A. Whitfield, the Charlotte-based attorney representing Jones’ family, notified the city of its claim on July 23 – almost six months to the day after the Forest Glen Middle School student’s Jan. 24 fall into the ice-covered pond in Suffolk Industrial Park.

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Under state law, anyone filing a wrongful death/negligence claim against a city must notify its government within six months of the incident. The law is designed to give the locality the opportunity to investigate the situation and offer a settlement before a lawsuit is filed.

Assistant City Attorney Tony Williams refused to comment, citing the possibility of future litigation.

Jones, an eighth-grade honor roll student, and five friends were sledding down a ravine behind their homes in Colander -Bishop Meadow Apartments, 925 Brook Ave., when they went out onto the icy pond. The ice cracked and Jones fell into approximately seven feet of 20-degree water, according to police.

The youngster was underwater approximately 80 minutes before rescuers got to him, police said. Jones, revived at the scene, died several hours later at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.

The pond, located at the end of Obici Industrial Boulevard, was created by the city’s removal of multiple tons of dirt from that site to Constant’s Wharf in preparation for the construction of the proposed Hilton Garden Inn.

To date, no claim or legal action has been filed against the Hilton Corp., Whitfield said.

According to reports published at the time, the retention pond did not have any sort of fence around it when Jones drowned. Several weeks after the incident, Scott Mills, director of planning, said the Unified Development Ordinance, the city’s growth-management document, does not require a fence to be erected around the pond.