The Arlington, Texas, City Council approved a $250,000 settlement with the parents of Bakari Williams, who was infected with a “brain eating amoeba” while visiting a local splash pad last year.
The 3-year-old boy died on September 11, 2021, after being hospitalized with primary amebic meningoencephalitis, a highly rare and generally fatal infection caused by the naegleria fowleri amoeba.
Williams died 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 the summer of 2021, but hours after his last visit, all the boy wanted to do was lie down, his parents said.
In a news conference, the boy’s mother said, “Nothing could knock him down, so I knew something was wrong.”
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, trying 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 splash pad.
However, 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.
Immediately following the incident, city officials accepted full responsibility.
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.”
While attorneys originally asked that the case go before a jury and were seeking more than $1 million in damages, on March 29, the Arlington City council approved a $250,000 settlement, the maximum allowed under state law in this case.
As part of the settlement, the city said that it will invest in health and safety improvements, including technology to automatically shut off splash pads where water readings aren’t in acceptable ranges. QR codes will allow visitors to see current information about water quality.
The city has updated and rewritten training materials for its staff.
It is also beginning to use an ultraviolet water treatment process for maintaining all current and future aquatic parks and splash pads. The changes will be known as the “Bakari Williams Protocol.”
The family says that without the promised changes the city says it will make at splash parks, the settlement money would have meant nothing.
“We want to make certain that nothing like this ever happens again,” said Bakari’s mother.