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Parents reach $250,000 settlement with Texas city after son, 3, dies after contracting brain-eating amoeba at splash pad

<i>LM Otero/AP</i><br/>Don Misenhimer Park splash area was closed in September 2021 after the child became infected.
LM Otero/AP
LM Otero/AP
Don Misenhimer Park splash area was closed in September 2021 after the child became infected.

By Hannah Sarisohn, CNN

The parents of a 3-year-old boy who died last year after a contracting a rare brain-eating amoeba at a splash pad in Arlington, Texas, have reached a $250,000 settlement with the city.

Bakari Williams died last September after spending five days in the hospital with primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, a rare and often fatal infection caused by an amoeba called Naegleria fowleri, according to previous reporting from CNN and affiliate KTVT.

Williams contracted the infection from a splash pad that officials later determined was improperly tested and maintained.

At a news conference, attorneys for Williams’ parents said the child’s death was preventable.

Family attorney Brian Hargrove said the $250,000 is the maximum economic recovery allowed against a city under the Texas Tort Claims Act, according to KTVT.

Arlington, in a statement, said the settlement will include a “significant investment in the installation of health and safety equipment and other improvements for our public pools and splash pads.”

The city will distribute a new policy manual, the Bakari Williams Protocol, that will guide staff on water treatment, according to Hargrove and the city. “We plan to share this information with other agencies in the aquatics industry so they can learn from our hard lessons,” the city said.

New technology will automatically shut off any splash pads where water readings are not in the acceptable ranges and the addition of QR codes will allow visitors to see real-time information about water quality, the statement, obtained by KTVT, said.

“We want you to know that Bakari was a sweet, beautiful and innocent child who did not deserve to die in the manner that he did. For us, this case has been about public awareness,” Williams’ mother, Kayla Mitchell, said at the news conference, according to the affiliate.

“We want to make certain that nothing like this ever happens again. We want to make certain that what happened to our son, what happened to our family, does not happen to anybody else,” said Mitchell.

Naegleria fowleri is commonly found in soil and in fresh warm water such as lakes, rivers and hot springs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It can also be found in poorly maintained or unchlorinated pools.

The organism infects people when water containing the amoeba enters the body through the nose, according to the CDC. The Naegleria fowleri amoeba then travels up the nose to the brain, where it destroys the brain tissue, the CDC says.

Investigation into the source of infection

City and Tarrant County officials were notified by the hospital September 5 of the child’s condition, according to a joint news release issued that month. The county health department started an investigation and determined two possible sources for the exposure to the amoeba — the family’s home in Tarrant County and the Don Misenhimer Park splash pad in Arlington.

The city immediately closed that splash pad, the news release says, and out of an abundance of caution closed the other three public splash pads for the remainder of the year.

On September 24, the CDC, according to the news release, determined the child was likely exposed to the organism at the splash pad after tests confirmed the presence of active Naegleria fowleri amoeba in water samples from the park.

“It breaks my heart. I’m a father of four, a grandfather of five kids from 2 to 7 years old. I cannot imagine having to bury a child or a grandchild like that,” Arlington Mayor Jim Ross told KTVT at the time

Low chlorine levels likely a factor

The city of Arlington conducted an investigation into the splash pad’s maintenance, equipment and water testing procedures. Officials determined the water quality testing data needed improvement.

“We have identified gaps in our daily inspection program,” Deputy City Manager Lemuel Randolph said in the 2021 news release. “Those gaps resulted in us not meeting our maintenance standards at our splash pads. All of the splash pads will remain closed until we have assurance that our systems are operating as they should, and we have confirmed a maintenance protocol consistent with city, county and state standards.”

Records from two of the splash pads, including the one at Don Misenhimer Park, showed employees did not consistently record, or in some cases did not conduct, water quality testing that is required before the facilities open each day, according to the news release. The testing includes checking for chlorine, which is used as a disinfectant.

A review of the logs determined that water chlorination readings were not documented two of the three days that the child visited the park in late August and early September, the news release said.

“Documents show that chlorination levels two days before the child’s last visit were within acceptable ranges,” reads the release. “However, the next documented reading, which occurred the day after the child visited, shows that the chlorination level had fallen below the minimum requirement and that additional chlorine was added to the water system.”

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Amanda Jackson, Amir Vera and Lauren M. Johnson contributed to this report.

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