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Brain-eating amoeba traced to splash pad

Just over a week after visiting an Arlington, Texas, splash pad, 3-yearold Bakari Williams was dead, having contracted a very rare infection caused by Naegleria fowleri, commonly known as the brain-eating amoeba.

Williams died on September 11, five days after being hospitalized with symptoms that included lethargy, loss of appetite, and fever.

His parents had taken him to the Don Misenhimer Park water feature several times during August and September, but hours after his last visit, all the boy wanted to do was lie down, his parents said.

“Nothing could knock him down, so I knew something was wrong,” the boy’s mother, Kayla Mitchell, said in a news conference.

When Williams spiked a fever of over 102 degrees on September 5, his parents brought him to the hospital. That day, city authorities shut down that and all other city splash pads, working to determine the cause of his illness. City officials initially believed the boy had been infected with the amoeba, which enters the body through the nose, either at his home or at the splashpad.

But days after the boy’s death, water samples analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control provided evidence that Williams had contracted the amoeba at the splash pad, the agency announced.

Subsequent investigation by city officials found that Arlington employees failed to properly maintain the water used in its splash pads. Naegleria fowleri is killed with 0.5 ppm chlorine in five minutes, according to numerous sources.

However, it was found that parks and recreation employees failed to record, or in some case not conduct, water testing prior to opening at two of the city’s four splash pads, including the one where Williams played. Most importantly, it was found that although the employees were responsible for checking splash pad chlorination levels, inspection logs at the Don Misenhimer splash pad showed that chlorine levels were not documented on two of the three dates that Williams visited. Furthermore, records from the day after Williams visited the facility showed that chlorine levels had fallen below the minimum requirement.

City officials did not shirk responsibility for the incident.

In a news release, Lemuel Randolph, the deputy city manager, said, “We have identified gaps in our daily inspection program. Those gaps resulted in us not meeting our maintenance standards at our splash pads.”

Provided with the results of the investigation, Arlington Mayor Jim Ross used stronger language. In an interview with news channel WFAA, Ross said that he and his grandchildren use the city’s splash pads.

“Part of our job as city leaders is to protect our citizens, and we failed, we absolutely failed,” Ross said. “The best way to deal with this thing is to come straight down main street and own it. We screwed up. Make no mistake, I’m taking responsibility for this; this happened under my watch, and the buck stops here.”

On October 4, speaking at a news conference, the child’s parents, Tariq Williams and Kayla Mitchell, announced that they had filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Arlington.

Standing alongside the boy’s parents, Stephen Stewart, the family’s attorney, said, “We’re here today because the City of Arlington decided to ignore the very safety rules that protect all of us. When you have public amusements like the splash pad, you just have to step up and do what is mandated by the state of Texas and they didn’t do it.”

Attorneys are asking that the case go before a jury and are seeking more than $1 million in damages.

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