The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Fallout remains year after drowning


July 4, 2018

David Grieder

Signs at Hillcrest Park advise against swimming or wading but had disappeared from the area shortly before the drowning incident last summer, city officials said. They were since reposted.

CLOVIS — Though a festive occasion for most, Independence Day this year in Clovis also marks the first anniversary of a tragic incident at a city park that left a child dead less than two weeks later.

There is little discernibly different now at Hillcrest Park, but the signs advising against swimming and wading in public ponds are back in place. Officials said they had disappeared shortly before the afternoon of July 4, 2017, when 12-year old Gevion Lewis went under the opaque waters for over five minutes before first responders located and removed him.

Lewis was airlifted to a Texas hospital, where he never regained consciousness. He turned 13 there, and was removed from a respirator and died July 15, 2017.

The incident is still the object of a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Clovis, scheduled for a four-day jury trial starting next April. The plaintiff is Lewis' mother Shawnita Jones, seeking an amount to-be-determined for economic damages and emotional suffering. That includes "mental and emotional damages" to Lewis' younger sibling, who along with two neighborhood friends was present at the time of the incident.

The group of boys were cooling off racing and swimming across the pond at Hillcrest that day when "Gevion became too fatigued and could no longer keep himself above the water," said the complaint. Within ten minutes first responders pulled him from the bottom of the pond, near the center.

The complaint alleges the city's "negligent operation and maintenance of the park subjected them to liability," noting the signs against swimming were not present at the time, nor was there "an adequate safety fence or barricade system to restrict and/or deter access to the reuse water pond."

The pond is filled with reuse water that later tested positive for a form of cholera, and first responders exposed to the pond during the rescue were given a course of antibiotics recommended by a physician.

City Manager Justin Howalt declined Tuesday to answer any questions about illness or symptoms among first responders following the incident, citing "HIPAA Regulations and personnel matters." He also detailed how the "Class 1A reuse water" with which the pond is filled and by which the park's athletic fields are watered is "the highest quality reuse water as defined by the New Mexico Environment Department" and "can be broadly utilized except for direct human consumption."

The city samples and tests the water regularly, he added, noting "there is always traces (of fecal coliform/ e. coli) but well below the limits set by the NMED."

"We have never tested above NMED limits," he added.

Howalt also said he was "unable to answer any questions regarding litigation," and attorneys representing the city and Jones did not immediately respond Tuesday to messages from The News. Court records show Judge David Reeb ordered in April that mediation to resolve the case prior to trial will take place in the first month of the new year, with a "second attempt at mediation" to occur three weeks before trial.

Temporary barricades were established last summer around the pond, "due to reports of children attempting to swim in the pond only days after this incident occurred," said the complaint.

Howalt said additional fencing has not since been added.

It was a hot afternoon last year when Gevion and his friends went swimming, and weather forecasts today call for a high in the mid-90s.


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