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Sunday, May 26, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Landlord Assailed on Rental-Complex Tragedy

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) - A 7-year-old drowned in "filthy stagnant water" that had collected in his apartment complex's abandoned, uncovered pool, the boy's mother claims in court.

"This is a big hazard and accident waiting to happen," read one complaint about the pool to the city of St. Paul in 2012, three years before the drowning of second grader Sher Kpor. The boy's mother, Ther Paw, quoted the prophetic warning about the pool at Princeton Place in a complaint she filed Friday in Hennepin County District Court.

A "broken" chain-link fence with a rusted deadbolt lock surrounded the pool, further enclosed by tall unkempt weeds, but the fence had at least one corner not secured to the ground, Paw says.

Kpor, named in the complaint only by his initials, "was not mature enough to appreciate the risk posed by a pool full of murky, stagnant water and garbage," according to the complaint.

Paw says the boy learned too late after either crawling under or scaling the "readily climbable" fence to retrieve a ball on May 25, 2015, according to the complaint.

"Dozens of toys and balls were in the pool," Robert Bennett, an attorney for Paw with Gaskins Bennett, said in an interview.

Bennett said one of Paw's other children, 10-year-old Ma Kpaw, climbed in to help Kpor when the younger boy began struggling, even though he also didn't how to swim.

By the time 34-year-old Paw learned her boys were in the pool, she could see Kpaw thrashing in the water, but there was no trace of Kpor.

"He was already submerged in the opaque sludge," the complaint states.

Paw says she began screaming for help as she entered the pool, "struggling to stay afloat amongst the debris and garbage."

Though a bystander helped Kpaw out of the pool, two medics with the fire department "entered the deep, mucky water and clawed through filth in search of" Kpor, according to the complaint.

Paw says the boy was blue, unconscious and unresponsive. Suffering severe brain damage from having been deprived of oxygen, Kpor remained on life support for 24 days at Gillette Children's Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, according to the complaint.

When he died on June 18, Kpor "was one day shy of his eighth birthday," the complaint states.

Paw had allegedly signed the lease to move into Princeton Place just 20 days before the drowning. Her lawsuit cites complaints about the pool dating back as far as 2007 and notes that city inspectors cited the property in 2012 for the unsecured fence and stagnant rainwater. The property's legal name, according to the complaint, is Cottage Homes.

Samir Properties and its owner are the only named defendants to Paw's action, which says Samir Abumayyaleh bought the property on Sept. 27, 2013.

The fire department report compiled after Kpor's drowning said "bottles, an ironing board, [and] plastic toy cars" were among the debris and garbage that had collected in the four to six feet of filthy stagnant rain water that filled the pool.

Paw's children are not identified by name in the complaint, but such details are available in a May 27, 2015, article by the Star Tribune about the drowning.

A spokesman for the Minnesota Health Department told the newspaper that Princeton Place's pool would not have been subject to state inspections and licensing since it was supposed to be closed.

The article quotes a Princeton Place resident as saying the cover that had once shielded the pool had been gone for a year and a half.

"The complex is largely populated with members of the Karen community, immigrants who fled religious and ethnic persecution in Myanmar," according to the article.

Abumayyaleh did not return a voicemail seeking comment on the lawsuit, but the 2015 Tribune article quotes him as saying he always kept the lock securing the pool closed.

Claiming that the pool had "been abandoned for 10 or 15 years," Abumayyaleh told the Star Tribune that he planned to convert the pool into a playground.

The pool is now filled in, attorney Bennett said, calling this something that "should have been done before."

"Pool safety isn't that hard," he added.

Bennett said Paw is still "having a tough, tough time."

"When you lose a child," he said, "it's a very difficult thing for the parents and the entire family."

Kpaw, the older brother, "still has emotional scarring," but appears healthy otherwise, the attorney added.

Paw is joined as a plaintiff in the lawsuit by Robert Lynn, a retired district court judge acting as trustee for Kpor.

They seek damages for negligence, strict liability and emotional distress.

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