Family of Georgia toddler who drowned during swim class demands closer investigation after sheriff finds no criminal wrongdoing

The family of a 4-year-old who died during his second swim lesson is asking local prosecutors to thoroughly investigate the criminal negligence case.

Israel “Izzy” Scott was pulled from the deep end of a private pool near Augusta, Georgia, where he was learning to swim with a certified instructor, Lexie Tenhuisen.

Tenhuisen said she did not know how he drowned. The instructor told authorities she made sure all the children were out of the pool before getting out. She was waiting for the next graders to all come in when her granddaughter saw Izzy at the bottom of the pool on June 14th.

Israel “Izzy” Scott, 4, died on June 14, 2022 while taking a swim class. (Photo: Facebook/Dori Scott)

The Burke County Sheriff’s Office said while there was some form of negligence that led to Izzy’s death, there was no evidence of criminal negligence. Sheriff Alfonzo Williams said he doesn’t think Tenhuisen intentionally neglected Izzy. However, the boy’s aunt, Lydia Glover-Fields, said the sheriff didn’t consider all the details when making his decision. The family is asking prosecutors to take a closer look.

“Criminal negligence is an act or omission that demonstrates a willful … willful will or reckless disregard for the safety of others,” Williams told WJBF this week. “So there you have it. You have to show willful intent or just reckless disregard for the safety of others,” he said.

The sheriff’s office released its findings in the case on July 7. Investigators interviewed the teacher, parents and other students in the class, who ranged in age from 4 to 9 years old.

Tenhuisen’s granddaughter, Baylor Coronati, said she spotted Izzy at the bottom of the deep end of the pool pulling out the vacuum before the next class. She told her grandmother, who immediately dived into the water to get the boy out.

“Help me get him out!” Tenhuisen shouted.

Another mother helped Tenhuisen pull the boy’s limp body out of the pool. Nancy Hillis, a nurse with a child scheduled for the next grade, began CPR.

dr Lora Darrisaw, the forensic pathologist, says that Izzy died from an accidental drowning and that the time underwater could not be determined, but it was less than an hour. Darrisaw saw no sign of injury or struggle.

Tenhuisen said Izzy did well in class and was not afraid of the water. She instructed the children to line up pool toys on the bottom of the pool right before the end of the lesson. Izzy lined up four toys and Tenhuisen praised him for a job well done, the report said. Next, she instructed the kids to swim the width of the shallow end of the pool before making sure they got out, she said. Tenhuisen told authorities she saw all 10 students in the class swim through the pool.

When the last child came out, Tenhuisen said she did too. She started greeting the parents, dried off and sat down briefly before her granddaughter pointed her out to Izzy, Tenhuisen said. She told investigators Izzy “might have gotten a little too close to the slope,” but she doesn’t remember “because it was just splashing,” and she “watched them swim over.”

No one except Mason Washington, another student in Izzy’s class, said they heard a splash. Mason said Izzy got out of the pool in front of him after the last lap, but he heard a splash 10 seconds later. He thinks Izzy jumped off the diving board. Mason said he did not see him on the board but heard him, and that Izzy accidentally got on the diving board on the first day of class.

Izzy’s aunt, Glover-Fields, pointed out that another student said her nephew coughed and vomited on the first day of class. The report reveals that Izzy told his mother, Dori Scott, that he didn’t want to go to class on the second day and asked, “What if I drown?” Scott assured her son that wouldn’t happen.

Israel Scott, 4, stands by a pool on his first day of swimming lessons. (Photo: Facebook/Dori Scott)

“He ingested too much water. So they got him out of the pool, put him on the concrete and left him there,” Glover-Fields said during a July 18 roundtable.

Glover-Fields said Tenhuisen never informed Izzy’s mother, who took him to class every day and waited for him. His aunt said she found numerous incidents of negligence in the report.

“If you don’t exegetically look at every word and sentence and break it down to its merits and let it stand for itself, then of course you won’t find anything,” Glover-Fields said.

In a previous interview, family attorney Lee Merritt told the Atlanta Black Star that his office would comb through the sheriff’s files to look for civil violations and to verify that employees had followed procedure. The sheriff said some state regulations for swimming lessons don’t apply to the case because the lessons were conducted in a private pool. Tenhuisen rented the pool from the homeowner for classes.

The case is currently being reviewed by a panel of senior law enforcement officials led by the Augusta Judicial Circuit prosecutor’s office.

District Attorney Jared T. Williams said all decisions in the case would be “made independently of any other agency.”

“This is what justice demands and what this family and community deserves,” he said in a statement.

“Our task is to take emotions and external pressure out of this decision and to analyze the law and facts of the case fairly. Integrity, fairness and equity are the guiding principles of our office and will remain so throughout this independent review,” added Jared T. Williams. Family of Georgia toddler who drowned during swim class demands closer investigation after sheriff finds no criminal wrongdoing

Dustin Huang

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